17 February 2021
We are delighted to share that ACOR, through director Pearce Paul Creasman and under the leadership of Nizar Al Adarbeh and Jehad Haron (USAID SCHEP), has received funding from the National Graphic Society for a new archaeological project, “Drones and GIS: Monitoring Illegal Excavation and Vandalism of Archaeological Sites in Wadi Rum (UNESCO World Heritage Site).”
Like many other countries, Jordan has felt critical impacts from the pandemic. Implementation of a strict lockdown on March 17, 2020 kept government employees and NGO workers alike in their homes, with only limited movement permitted. In consequence, nature preserves and archaeological sites, especially those in remote areas, were left largely unattended for months. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wadi Rum, the site of major films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Martian (2015), and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), being massive (280 square miles) and rural, is particularly at risk. Illegal excavations were recorded in Jordan during the pandemic, with Wadi Rum among the most exposed, but to what degree is presently unknown. Encroachment is also a matter of increasing concern. As is known from experiences in Egypt and elsewhere during the Arab Spring, if not monitored, history will be lost. Limited resources mean that Wadi Rum and its millennia of unparalleled rock art, undeciphered inscriptions, pristine deserts, and awe-inspiring outcrops are under threat. This project will use drones and databases to monitor high-risk portions of Wadi Rum in order to equip authorities with precise locations to guide precision government intervention. Furthermore, it will engage and train people who live around Wadi Rum in methods of site monitoring and reporting.
ACOR is pleased that the National Geographic Society has entrusted our staff with this critically important work. Building on years of scholarly and community engagement at Wadi Rum, particularly through our USAID SCHEP grant, we look forward to taking this next step as a means of continued engagement in Wadi Rum and in Jordanian archaeology.