The Arab region contains an extraordinary wealth of monuments and archaeological sites from the human past. These range from traces of some of the earliest settled communities in the world, such as 10,000 year old Neolithic Jericho, to the physical remains of the towns and cities of the great civilizations of Egypt, Sumer, and Babylonia (5,000 BCE onwards), to the monuments of the Nabataens at Palmyra and Petra (late 4th century BCE); and to the secular and religious buildings and historic cities of the Islamic period.
The economic and social developments in the region over the last decades have inevitably led to increased pressure on resources, including cultural ones.
Demand for land for housing and infrastructure projects, a massive increase in leisure tourism, as well as regional conflicts, have all combined to place an extraordinary burden on the people whose job is to manage and protect this heritage. Such professionals require an increasingly wide range of skills to function effectively. They must be able to understand the scientific principles behind the application of conservation measures, to work both at an interdisciplinary level with architects, archaeologists, museologists, engineers and so on, and on an intersectorial level with professionals from other areas of government such as tourism, housing, industry; and education; and to be experts at promoting cultural heritage to diverse audiences many of whom may be initially sceptical of the value of the past.
The most pressing obstacles to heritage preservation in the region include a lack of trained and qualified staff and inadequate public support for the work of official heritage institutions. The ATHAR Programme seeks to address directly these shortcomings.
27 January, 2010