The Modern Face of an Ancient City

Sustainable economic development of a Mesopotamian archaeological site


Abstract for the UCLA

New Seed Grant Opportunity to Enhance Transdisciplinary Research/Scholarship


Giorgio Buccellati, April 2011


The project blends two periods remote in time and two disciplines that seem just as remote in outlook: the third millennium B.C. with our current third millennium on the one hand, archae­ology and economics on the other. At the center is the site of ancient Urkesh, a large Mesopotamian city that flourished between 4000 and 1300 B.C., today located in eastern Syria. We have been conducting excavations there since 1984, and we have recently proposed to develop a large Eco-archaeological Park that will cover 54 km2 and include 20 modern villages, many of which are ancient sites as well. We plan to develop this area from both a cultural and an economic point of view, in such a way that each village will become a mini-museum for one aspect of ancient life twinned with a parallel modern activity (ceramics, textiles, animal husbandry, farming, etc.). We strive for maximum sustainability, by helping villagers to organize their crafts and by providing marketing at the national and international level through large business concerns. Plans for the project have been enthusiastically received by the Syrian authorities, and we have also received a prestigious award this January from the Archaeological Institute of America. We are now looking for seed money to develop a full fledged proposal to governmental organizations, foundations and corporations.

From an economic point of view , the proposed Park embodies several innovative features, both for research and for in vivo experimentation. It is conceived as a cultural district, where the enclosed heritage goods will be used as stepping stones for the creation of capabilities in integrated economic development. These capabilities will consist of human and non human capital and aim at furthering a process of endogenous growth based on the empowerment of local communities and an innovative model of participation and strategic planning. The Park will thus be an important living experiment in the field of planned conservation and preventive archeology in an area whose importance stems at the same time from its historical landmarks, its economic potential and its transnational characteristics. By integrating the economic approach to management of heritage sites, in accordance with UNESCO guidelines, the Park will be the first large scale interdisciplinary research project in the region, combining archaeologists, historians, engineers and economists, on the complementary relation between archaeology, tourism, agriculture and local services.