Libya's Heritage under Threat

By Ibrahim, Nadia | The Middle East, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Libya's Heritage under Threat


Ibrahim, Nadia, The Middle East


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'ALL YOU CAN AND CAN'T IMAGINE', A poster produced by Libya's Department of Antiquities informs us. In Apollonia, where a stunning Greek theatre stands by the sea outside the old city walls, sewage from an increasing number of recently constructed buildings is polluting the sea, but a diving school is planned nevertheless.

This sad state of affairs provides a graphic illustration of the problem facing Libya's ancient sites: their preservation is taking second place to modern development, which is prioritised by the state. "I want to keep Libya beautiful, but it is hell bent on destroying its assets," lamented one archaeologist.

From early prehistoric sites in the desert, including spectacular rock art to the ruins of the ancient cities of matchless size and splendour, Libya's archaeological heritage is truly spectacular, comparatively little studied and hugely under threat. The opening of Libya's doors to the world and particularly to the West has stimulated a vast amount of development, especially in the hydrocarbon and infrastructure sectors in the economy: there is a veritable 'Gold Rush' of over 100 oil companies and innumerable other companies from all over the world wanting to do business with Libya.

With one of the fastest-growing populations in Africa, the Libyan government is attempting to develop a 'new way' for its society and economy. Archaeology has not been high on Libya's agenda, taking second place to the development of the state. There has been little or no history of state-funded archaeological research. The custodian of Libyan heritage, the Department of Antiquities, has been poorly supported by the state and is poorly positioned to deal with threats to the country's archaeological sites and monuments posed by the tidal wave of development. Libya has fantastic laws to protect antiquities--no development can be carried out without the consent of the Department of Antiquities--but these laws are not implemented.

Virtually all recent and current major development projects (water pipelines, urban construction, agricultural schemes, desalination plants, power stations, power lines, roads and railways) have been and are still undertaken without archaeological impact-assessment monitoring or mitigation. The Great Man-Made River Project was undertaken without any archaeological assessment of its effects, new developments are planned in archaeologically sensitive areas and opportunities to further knowledge of the past are being lost. …

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