archaeology

West Bank map could inform peace talks

gaza_map

“The significance of making this data public should not be underestimated. For the first time, both Palestinians and Israelis can dynamically consult this interactive map and view what cultural heritage will fall under the sovereign rule of each side during final peace negotiations,” says team member Ran Boytner about a new searchable Google Map portal. (View the searchable map.)

USC (US)—A team of American, Israeli, and Palestinian experts has developed the first map detailing 40 years of Israeli archeological activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem—much of it never publicly disclosed.

The public can access the West Bank and East Jerusalem Archaeology Database at http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/wbarc/ (users should have Google Earth installed to enjoy the full power of the database).

“The significance of making this data public should not be underestimated. For the first time, both Palestinians and Israelis can dynamically consult this interactive map and view what cultural heritage will fall under the sovereign rule of each side during final peace negotiations,” says team member Ran Boytner, director for international research at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA.

The University of Southern California Web site is part of a larger effort to devise a framework for the disposition of the region’s archaeological treasures in the event of a two-state peace agreement. The searchable Google Map portal recently won the 2009 Open Archaeology Prize from American Schools of Oriental Research, the main organization for archeologists working in the Middle East.

Boytner and USC’s Lynn Swartz Dodd, one of the project leaders, invited Israeli and Palestinian archeologists in 2005 to engage in a dialogue about archeology. This led to a research effort to identify Israeli archeological activity since 1967, when Israel took over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Built over several years through hundreds of hours of research, bolstered by freedom of information requests and, when necessary, a lawsuit in Israeli courts, the Web site provides interactive satellite maps showing locations of about 7,000 sites in the region, including:

  • Shiloh, where the Bible locates the original tabernacle of the Hebrews
  • Battir (Khirbet al Yahudiya), where the Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion
  • Qumran caves where the Dead Sea scrolls (the earliest copies of the Bible) were found
  • Jericho
  • many sites within Jerusalem.

Rafi Greenberg, a senior lecturer in archeology at Tel Aviv University, and Adi Keinan, formerly of Tel Aviv University and now a doctoral student at University College London, conducted the research for the Web maps.

Dodd described the process as seeking to “fill a void” in preparation for future peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“That void was intelligent, prepared conversation and data resources that could inform negotiation over cultural heritage and archeology.

“The respective authorities and archaeological communities did not endorse the research officially, they were aware of it, and they did not intervene to stop it,” Dodd says.

The searchable map helps define the scope of a future agreement.

“We’ve started a database that lets you know what to negotiate for,” Dodd says. “Each of us is committed to continuing our work so that all information about Israeli archeological activity in the West Bank and Gaza becomes publicly accessible.”

“We’re very proud of this achievement,” Boytner says.

In the event of any proposal for a future border, he adds, “you can draw a line on a map and know exactly where each site will fall.”

Matt Gainer, director of USC Digital Library, says: “The better our understanding of the histories represented by the data, the more likely it will be that there will be informed dialog about the region. We are proud to have played a role in this larger discourse.”

For scholars and laypersons, the database has other practical uses.

Researchers soon will be able to download the entire file for use in diverse ways. For example, the overlay of ancient sites on contemporary satellite photographs allows instant comparison of settlement patterns, which in turn may provide information on ancient stream flows and other important features.

Government agencies could consult the database before planning roads or other public works projects. Tourists and history buffs could research locations of specific sites, such as early Christian churches.

Dodd is working with the USC Digital Library to augment the database with educational resources for K-12 and college.

The map and database were made possible with funding from many sources, including USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the United States Institute for Peace.

For information on the publication of this database in print and CD formats, visit www.sharedfuture.org.

University of Southern California news: http://uscnews.usc.edu/

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