Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Middle Eastern Geodatabase: A Monitoring System, But Can It Monitor Looters and Armies?

Timothy Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, comments on my earlier post,

"This Is the Future of Archaeological Site Protection. Are Heritage Protection Advocates Listening?":

You call on the Getty to step in, but neglect to mention the important work the Getty and its partners are doing in the Middle East to help countries manage and monitor their cultural heritage.
The Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities, or MEGA, is a bilingual Arabic-English, Web-based national geographic information system created by the Getty Conservation Institute with its partner the World Monuments Fund to assist heritage officials in inventorying, monitoring, and managing the Middle East’s vast number of archaeological sites. We helped the Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA) customize it for Jordan, where it was called MEGA-J. The DoA deployed MEGA–Jordan nationwide in April 2011. (
The GCI and WMF also have adapted and made MEGA available for use by the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage. Its implementation in Iraq has been delayed due to administrative changes in the country.
The MEGA system, which incorporates internationally accepted documentation standards, can be customized and is designed for adaptation and use by other countries. It uses open source software that does not impose licensing fees on financially strapped antiquities authorities.
Despite ongoing conflict in the region, we continue to work on projects in the area to aid heritage professionals in a variety of other ways as well.
As recently as July, a group of Syrian heritage professionals participated in training in Rome as part of MOSAIKON, a partnership of the GCI, the Getty Foundation, ICCROM, and the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics to conserve Roman mosaic pavements and manage archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region through strategic targeting of priorities and deployment of resources.
The first phase of MOSAIKON began in 2008. The partners will shortly be undertaking an evaluation to ensure that the strategy is meeting its objectives. The results of this evaluation will inform subsequent phases of work.
I have noted the MEGA system in earlier blogs as a very positive innovation, a helpful tool for longterm management and conservation of archaeological sites. But so far as I can tell (and I would be delighted to hear otherwise), the MEGA system is intended to help governments do a better job planning for development and to address longterm encroachment or ecological challenges, important problems but not the same as the problems of looting and war-related destruction. MEGA seems not so well designed to do what I am begging the Getty and other defenders of cultural heritage to develop the tools to make it possible to do: facilitate the realtime visual monitoring that could identify looting as it is happening and deter militaries from moving operations onto sites. 

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