UCLA Transdisciplinary Seed Grant Forum (TSGF)


The Modern Face of an Ancient City

Sustainable economic development of a Mesopotamian archaeological site


Project Description – April 30, 2011


Giorgio Buccellati, Principal Investigator

Pasquale Lucio Scandizzo, Collaborator #1


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Archaeology and economics
Presuppositions: Excavations at Tell Mozan, ancient Urkesh
The Urkesh Eco-archaeological Park
Implementation: this proposal
Innovative aspects of proposal
Transdisciplinary dimension
Unique expertise of team members
Prospects for future funding
Postscript

Archaeology and economics

The primary goal of archaeology is the study of broken traditions. They are broken because their human carriers have long since died out, and the remains of their material culture are buried under their own collapse. We recover the evidence from the ground, and document it through a painstaking recording system. Behind this evidence, we seek to understand the ancient life ways that were at the root of their history.

Archaeology is remote in time. It is, however, embedded in a modern socio-politcal reality that is reclaiming more and more of what is perceived as its past, loaded with meaning. And the economics of it goes hand in hand with the socio-political concerns. Attention to the past generates interest in the present conditions, and it wants to stake a claim for the future. All of which becomes a powerful motor for economic development.

The core aim of the project is to develop a model that is applicable to a concrete situation for which all the presuppositions are already in place.

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Presuppositions: Excavations at Tell Mozan, ancient Urkesh

We have a unique opportunity, based on a well established archaeological project and a set of circumstances most favorable for the realization of a large new economic plan.

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. It was one of the earliest cities in the history of the world, and it is had the distinction of proposing a different model of urbanization from the Sumerian, the only one otherwise known (http://128.97.6.202/urkeshpublic/Lawler_2008.pdf) for that time period. I have been conducting excavations there since 1984, and have uncovered a major Temple and Royal Palace, with a large number of artifacts and written texts. The site has attracted much attention, most recently receiving the Archaeological Institute of America first ever Award for Best Practices in Archaeological Site Preservation (see http://www.archaeological.org/news/pressrelease/3651). The excellent preservation of such ancient architecture, and our successful efforts at conserving it and presenting it to the public, are a reason why the project we are proposing has high potential.

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The Urkesh Eco-archaeological Park

Starting from the excavations at this archaeological site, we have developed plans for a large Eco-archaeological Park that includes the countryside of ancient Urkesh. It will cover 54 km2 and include 20 modern villages, many of which are ancient sites as well. We want to develop the 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.

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 heritage sites 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.

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Implementation: this proposal

The work done so far was a feasibility study. Our project, in its broad outline, has been enthusiastically received by the local authorities, and a favorable preliminary response has been given to our request for governmental support in such areas as roads, sewer construction, garbage disposal. We are now looking for seed money to develop a full fledged proposal to governmental organizations, foundations and corporations. This is the scope of the present proposal.

What needs to be done now is to put together a concrete proposal, that will specify in full detail the tasks envisaged, the human and material resources needed, the costs entailed.

The main results deriving from work on the TSGF proposal are in three directions, and they will so appear in our final report. (1) A thorough review of the literature, from an archeological and an economic point of view: this will serve to document what we believe to be the uniqueness of our project. (2) The intellectual dimension of the project, which we will put in evidence by articulating in detail the theoretical aspects. (3) The specific guidelines for a concrete implementation: this will constitute the major portion of the report, as it details the steps to be taken over the next several years.

The report will also serve as the basis for full fledged funding requests to outside agencies

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Innovative aspects of proposal

The economic model proposed has three important innovative features. First, it is based on the idea that conservation should be part of an overall economic plan, that should aim at a sustainable fruition of heritage, as an environmental and cultural asset and an engine of economic development. Second, the model revolves around the dual concept of use and non-use value as key components of the value creation process spurred by conservation, and cultural production within a community setting and a broader territory. Third, the model incorporates uncertainty as one of the basic variables at the roots of the threats and opportunities that heritage poses in a real setting.

Archaeologically, the project is new because it proposes to study, through systematic excavations, not only an ancient urban center, bu the entire area that revolved around it. This will bring to light the network of resources that made it possible for the ancient metropolitan area to thrive, with the benefit of the insight into the modern situation.

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Transdisciplinary dimension

Archaeological research presents the unique opportunity for the economist to test some fundamental hypotheses on the origin and the rationale of human civilization. Archaeology reveals a wealth of observations that carry economic information and are potentially useful to reject or corroborate alternative theories of human settlements, the role of urban and non urban space, the social and the individual dimension of daily behavior. As Foucault demonstrated, archaeology  supports a historiography that does not rest on the primacy of the consciousness of individual subjects, as it allows the economist, just as the philosopher, to operate at an unconscious level that displaces the primacy of the economic agent as the reference for rational behavior. At the same time, economics can offer archaeology a fresh perspective on the concept of value and on the idea that the scope of the discipline  can be reduced to the undoing of “broken tradition”. The concept of “non-use value”, in particular, and the theory of the capacity of objects to incorporate essential values that go beyond what is planned by individual agents, may be very useful to approach the problem of recovery and conservation as well as of the fruition and re-use. The dilemmas posed by muselization and the desire to keep authenticity also find important suggestions in the economics of value creation and development.

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Unique expertise of team members

G. Buccellati is a Professor Emeritus of the Ancient Near East and of History at UCLA, Director of the Meopotamian Lab at the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, and Co-Director of the Mozan/ Urkesh Archaeological Project. He has been engaged in archeological excavations in Syria since 1976, and has received honors and awards in the US, Italy and Syria. His many excavation reports and his pub­lications on methodology, in particular on site preservation and presentation, serve as the indispensable intellectual background for the project, while his local connections and his dedication to improving the local fruition of archeology provide a solid footing for the practical aspects of the project.

P. L. Scandizzo is a Professor of Political Economy at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata, where he teaches Economic Policy, Project Evaluation and Cultural Economics and directs a very successful International Master’s program in the Economics, Management and Policy of Culture, with students and professors from non economic disciplines (including archaeologists). He is the Director of CEIS (Center of International Studies on Economics and Development), a leading, University- wide center on international studies, with an important program of research and wide international expertise in the economics of culture and heritage. Prof. Scandizzo has been engaged in research in the role of culture in economic development for the past thirty years and has developed a wide experience both scientific and operational in this field. Among other prestigious tasks, in the past 10 years he has been entrusted with  the preparation of a comprehensive plan for the museum systems in South Italy, an important World Bank high training and research program in the Middle East and a far reaching research and institution building program, sponsored by the Italian Government, for the Citadel of Damascus and the national museum system in Syria.

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Prospects for future funding

Future funding may be sought both from international donors, such as the World Bank, the Arab Fund, the Aga Khan Foundation, and on the international market for research grants (in particular, the EU Framework Program). We have also made initial contacts with Italian Foundations (Benetton, Cariplo) and with the New York Office of the World Monuments Fund (the latter has already given us a grant in the past and has expressed an interest in the larger project).

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Postscript

While writing this proposal, events in Syria have taken place that may seem to affect the possibility of our carrying out this project. In fact, the opposite is true. Our work during the time frame of the grant will take place in the US and Europe, preparing for the implementation that will take place at a later date in Syria. The project will then be welcomed as contributing to the cultural and economic welfare of the country: the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, from which we depend, is a non-political body that is widely respected, as is our excavation project. In a similar way, we were the first to go to Lebanon at the end of the civil war in 2006 to give a series of lectures at the American University of Beirut.