UCLA Transdisciplinary Seed Grant Forum (TSGF)

The Modern Face of an Ancient City

Sustainable economic development of a Mesopotamian archaeological site

Phase 2 (Renewal)

Project Description – May 1st, 2012

Giorgio Buccellati, Principal Investigator

Pasquale Lucio Scandizzo, Collaborator #1

Progress reprot on the 2011 TSGF grant
The new proposal
Intended results
Innovative aspects of proposal
Transdisciplinary dimension
Unique expertise of team members
Prospects for future funding

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While writing the original proposal, in April 2011, the internal situation in Syria had started to become unstable. In a Postscript at the end of the proposal, I made a point of this:

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.

As it turned out, not only were we able to conduct our project as planned, but direct contacts with Syria intensified to an unexpectedly high degree of interaction – in spite of the increased deterioration of the internal situation. Such interaction manifested itself through contacts in three major venues: Europe, Damascus and the site of Mozan itself. Syrian direct participation in our project rose to a level that fully confirmed my anticipation of a broad “welcome,” the many aspects of which I will describe in detail below.

One aspect that needs to be stressed in this introduction is the sense of surprise that prevailed when I could state that our commitment to this project was not just based on generic good intentions, but could be carried out concretely as a result of a grant from UCLA. The surprise arose from the realization that one could still put faith in the value of culture in what was becoming a deadly battlefield. The title of our project, “A Modern Face for an Ancient City” became all the more relevant as this “modern face” was being distorted with so much anguish. Distorted, but all the more in need of affirming stable values. To express this I was led to write an editorial for the Bulletin of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, in which I was reaffirming how real the public impact of culture can, or in fact, must be:

How could [cultural abstractions matter] when people are dying in the streets? But they do, strongly, matter, because the whole effort ultimately evokes and nurtures the sense of dignity that sustains us humans when everything else collapses around us.

It is important for me to stress how enormously valuable the support of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research has been in this regard, how proud I was to relate to our colleagues and friends in Damascus and in the province where we work that UCLA had made possible for me to be by their side as they struggle precisely to maintain this identity, to keep their country from falling into the chaos and desperation of wanton vandalism as we have witnessed in the neighboring countries. This development was unexpected, and it is precisely because it opened a door onto an even deeper level of reality for our project that I decided to extend its scope, and apply for this renewal.

The initial transdisciplinary idea was to explore the relationship between archaeology and economics, and to lay the ground work for a major funding request that would allow us to implement on a vast scale the design of a special type of eco-archaeological park. Our work has progressed to a point where we can already show, half way through the tenure of the grant, very substantial results (which I will describe below). Thus the expansion I am now proposing for the project builds very directly on those premises, and adds an intangible quality: the urgency of the project is underscored and emphasized by the impact that it has on the ground. The intellectual dimension is all the greater because it is encased in a live experience like no other in our field: it is not only that our socio-economic scenarios matter as abstractions towards a future realization. They are self-fulfilling by virtue of being attempted. We have seen local efforts become energized and local resources being activated in ways that dramatically attest how values draw out the best precisely in times of emergency.

In this light it will appear that the progress report I am giving below goes well beyond the normal academic statement. It has the much greater resonance that derives from seeing how profound the public impact of scholarship can be.

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Progress report on the 2011 TGSF grant

The Syrian input

The critical new aspect of my report is the description of the Syrian response to our project. It was not factored in my original proposal, and thus it is a change vis-à-vis the original intent, one that adds immeasurably to my goals as originally stated. What is important in term of the current proposal is that none of this would have happened had it not been for the 2011 TGS grant: while not inscribed in the original text, it is very much part of its spirit.

An important event in this regard was a trip I took to Syria in December 2011. I did this together with my wife, Prof. Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, who is the director of the excavations at Tell Mozan. It was at the height of the crisis. In fact, at one point during our stay in Damascus we had to vacate our room because the contingent of the Arab League mission was beginning to arrive and they were housed in our hotel. A separate report will be found in www.urkesh-park.net (a temporary website open to staff and reviewers, with ID urkesh and password park), under 2012 Project Proposal > Trip report. Our trip was very warmly welcomed, because archaeological activity had all but ceased in the country, and the Park initiative was an initiative around which we could all rally.

The grant has been the catalyst that has set all of this in motion, in five major areas.

(1) Meetings with the Antiquities authorities in Damascus and abroad. In Damascus we had five long working meetings with our colleagues, in which we clarified our reciprocal areas of interest in the work being done on the Park. In addition we met, with one of these colleagues in both Germany and Italy. In the latter venue we were able to have a formal meeting with all our Italian colleagues as well, including of course my Collaborator #1 (Prof, Scandizzo) and his assistant, Dr. Costa. These meetings turned out to be very important in two respects. On the one hand they showed our Syrian colleagues the extent of our commitment, and thus they helped to energize their own commitment to the project. On the other, we clarified a number of items so as to ensure that we would not work at cross purposes.

(2) Meetings with private stakeholders in Syria and abroad. I met with a variety of individuals at the local level (Mozan itself and the nearby towns of Amuda and Qamishli) and in Damascus They represent a wide spectrum of social and professional classes: in addition to the farmers who represent the majority of our workmen, I spoke at some length with landowners, tribal leaders, two high placed business leaders, a doctor, a bank director, a Catholic priest. With each, I discussed at some length our project, in order to elicit their input and, eventually, their support. Two of them have also traveled to Los Angeles, where we were able to continue our discussion in even greater detail. This will constitute a substantial portion of my final report on the grant, because it speaks directly to the potential success of the project.

(3) Verification on the ground of site preservation procedures. The Park project is based in the first place on the archaeological component, and an important goal of my trip was to ensure that the site of Urkesh itself was being adequately protected. We have two guards and four other individuals who work year round at the site: we had been in contact via e-mail, and I had directed their work with reference to photographs they had sent me, but my personal inspection was extremely important both to verify the quality of the procedures being implemented, and to restructure logistic details such as payments through a local bank (rather than from Damascus). This aspect is of major relevance to the Park project, because maintenance is one of the critical issues for long term sustainability, and this year's emergency has shown how we can safely rely on local initiative to guarantee its feasibility.

(4) Government cultural initiatives in the area of the Park. Already during the summer of 2011, the Antiquities officials developed a series of programs centered around Mozan, with three trips they took to the site, where they held meetings with up to thirty young people of the Park area to discuss future plans with them and to elicit their input for what they thought to be most needed. In addition they also awarded two four year scholarships to two young women from Mozan village to attend the University (one in Aleppo and the other in Hassaka). Four more scholarships are planned for the next academic year. This of course feeds directly into future plans for the Park in that it helps develop the human resources we will need to provide visitors with adequate information.

(5) Government infrastructure development in the area of the Park. Just as significant is the implementation of the commitment to provide the infrastructure needed for the Park, which includes sewers, running water and garbage collection in each of the villages within the Park. It is indicative of the seriousness of this commitment that at this very moment (April 2012) the installation of running water is under way at the village of Mozan, a fact that is all the more remarkable given the difficult economic situation and the general instability in the country.

Current outcomes

Half way through the year, we have already achieved substantial results. An important catalyst were the direct personal contacts we had in Italy in the summer of 2011. First there was a general meeting in which, besides my collaborator #1 (Prof. Scandizzo) and his assistant (Valentina Costa), a number of colleagues participated who contributed in a variety of ways, from both the academic and the tourism points of view. I followed up with working meetings I held with Dr. Costa and my own assistant, Caitlin Chaves.

The goals stated in the 2011 proposal were three:

(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.

We have made very good progress on all three fronts. Substantial portions of our research, which will be included in the comprehensive final report, are posted on our temporary website www.urkesh-park.net (ID urkesh, pw park): I. a comprehensive review of some of major parks of a similar nature, with a critical assessment of their relative merits; II. a basic description of the nature of the site, outlining its overall scope, distinctive characteristics and major aims; III. some extensive components relating to the implementation phase with specific pointers to concrete aspects of the project, two detailed projections of possible architectural scenarios, and an equally detailed socio-economic and legal analysis.

Work to be completed

We have expended about half of the awarded funds, and with the remainder we plan to complete the full report working in two directions. (1) We must gather material and complete certain portions of the research, in particular in regard to the theoretical dimension. (2) I will then combine the various parts into an organic whole, that can also be used to submit requests for major external funding.

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The new proposal

The Urkesh Eco-archaeological Park

The focus of the research remains that outlined in the 2011 proposal: a large Eco-archaeological Park that includes the countryside of ancient Urkesh, a major urban center dating back to the very beginning of the urban revolution in ancient Syro-Mesopotamia. It will cover 54 km2 and include 20 modern villages, many of which are ancient sites as well. The modern village of Mozan is located within the boundaries of the ancient city, and will serve as the prototype for the development of the whole area. 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.

Expanded goals

The long introduction at the beginning of my proposal highlighted the change in preexisting conditions that motivated me to submit a renewal application. Our aggressive pursuit of the initial goals showed that the project has acquired a relevance that goes beyond the original intent, however ambitious that may already have been. Precisely at a moment of national emergency, a project that links culture with socio-economic growth turned out to serve as a focal point where different sectors of society and diverse interests could coalesce and cooperate towards a shared positive goal. A series of activities (workshops and publications, online as well as on paper) will explain in detail how our project fits in this particular juncture in Syrian history.

Another aspect that a renewal of the grant will make possible to develop is the start of a concrete pilot project in the village of Mozan: this will serve as a real-time model for the procedures we intend to follow and for future large scale grant application to extra-mural sources.

I will indicate now the concrete steps that will make this possible.

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Intended results


The informal meetings we have had with a variety of individuals involved in the project, in Los Angeles, Berlin, Milan, Damascus and Mozan itself, between July 2011 and April 2012, have demonstrated the great benefit of face to face confrontation, on both the academic and the practical level. Even greater benefit would derive from a carefully organized series of encounters, planned as regular workshops, in three specific venues.

The first workshop would be held in Italy, and would consolidate the analysis already done expanding it in light of the much sharper awareness we have gained of the public impact of a project like ours. The expanded scope of the participation would be defined in three major ways, taking advantage of personal contacts that I have developed during the course of the current grant tenure. (1) I have approached a major Italian NGO (COSV) that is currently operative in Syria, and has a distinct interest in our project. (2) I would like to expand substantially the architectural component, which has already been an important part of the project through the participation of the Politecnico of Milan (see the work in progress section of our website, under section III). (3) On the “political” level I would invite the Italian ambassador to Damascus, currently on recall in Italy, the Syrian consul in Milan, and some representatives of the Italian authorities, at least at the regional level (the region of Lombardy has its own department in support of international relations, and a representative group was in Damascus two years ago). I put “political” in quotes because the goal is not to approach the larger and intractable political questions, but to seek advice on how our project might in a small but realistic way contribute towards a constructive reassessment of mutual interests.

The second workshop would be with Syrian authorities in Damascus. Our contacts are with the Ministry of Culture and, within it, with the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums. This would be in effect very close in scope to the informal meetings we held in December 2011, but it would be even more pertinent in the light of the developments that have been taking place. We would also focus more specifically on the concrete steps that can be taken to proceed with the project, as we did in the previous meetings with regard to such matters as the scholarships for young people in the Park area and the implementation of public works, specifically running water in the village of Mozan.

The third workshop would take place in Mozan itself, and here we would strengthen and expand considerably the contacts with the private and business sector. This is where a delicate balance has to be struck in relationship to the public authorities. Our project may provide a small but realistic example of how this may work in practice: we are dealing with economic realities, but on a small scale that would not threaten entrenched interests, and would only contribute to a level of stability that is uppermost in everybody's mind.

Publication of proceedings

A major concrete goal of the project would be the publication of a volume that would include the results of the three workshops, and, beyond that, the work already done during the current 2011-12 grant period. It would be a multi-author scholarly volume about the economic, archaeological and practical development of the Eco-Archaeological Park. Authors will include archaeologists, surveyors, economists, architects, tourism specialists, heritage managers, Syrian authorities and stakeholders. This collaborative work will describe both the particulars of the Urkesh Eco-Archaeological Park and would serve as a guide to best practices for other projects that might use or adopt similar techniques. The importance of studying the potential courses of action prior to choosing a process of implementation cannot be overstated and few publications address issues of development or the theoretical implications of heritage management prior to their application in the field. The substantial participation of Syrian authors is obviously essential, especially in consideration of the leadership they have shown in furthering the development of their unmatched cultural heritage and their readiness to share it effusively with interested foreigners like ourselves.

Public website

We will open a website on the Park, that will serve to showcase for the broader public the achievements as well as the future goals. On the one hand the website will anticipate the future developments which we are projecting. But on the other it will also serve to highlight a reality that is already in existence and is beginning to attract wide attention. Besides articles in the media and in general guidebooks to Syria, I will mention here as an example a chapter on “the legendary city” of Urkesh that has appeared in a recent volume on 500 important sites in the world, where specific reference is made to the way in which the site is preserved and presented: “It's a fascinating opportunity to watch state-of-the-art excavation in progress.”

Pilot project in Mozan village

The village of Mozan is located within the boundaries of the ancient city of Urkesh, and will serve as a prototype for the socio-economic development of the other villages. It is important to have a concrete example of what the Park will provide in order to show the local stakeholders what the wider project entails, and what benefits it will offer. The initiative of the Syrian authorities mentioned above (University scholarships for young village people and the installation of running water) give concrete evidence of what the future holds in store. As part of my proposal, I would like to match the Syrian initiative with two specific interventions on the ground, both having to do with the construction of a visitor's center in Mozan.

(1) We will develop a specific architectural plan for such a building, in line with what has already been done during the first phase of the TGSF project. This plan will address the specific issues relating to the actual construction process, and will produce the relevant designs. The building itself will be a small mudbrick structure, in keeping with the local style: about five rooms, with a courtyard and a precinct wall.

(2) On the basis of these designs, we will excavate the area required for the foundations. This is by no means a mechanical exercise, because the affected area is that of the ancient city. So we plan to conduct a short archaeological excavation (about ten days), in the early Fall of 2012, that will match the footprint of the building. The excavations as such is not included in this proposal's budget, but only the travel costs for four individuals (which are already budgeted for the workshops). But conceptually the excavations are very much part of the proposal's intent.

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Innovative aspects of proposal

As in the initial phase of the project (funded 2011), the central goal of creating a sustainable Eco-Archaeological Park model remains in the forefront. 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.

In particular, 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, but 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. The expanded scope of the project calls attention to the role that architecture will play in building a sustainable Park – both economically and ecologically. The architecture sets the tone for how the Park is viewed and sustainable architecture using renewable, local resources can serve as an exemplar for other villages to encourage sustainability and eco-friendly practices in everyday life of the villages. Additionally, the eco-archaeological aspects of the Park serve to broaden the potential tourism base by encouraging both those interested in archaeology and eco-tourism to visit, ensuring continued economic sustainability within a tourism model.

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Transdisciplinary dimension

The project brings together people from three fields - economics, architecture, and archaeology to produce a plan for the development of a single prototype village in the Park area. Each discipline brings a different set of skills to the Project to form a final product that will be fully integrated into the local community. Archaeological research presents the unique opportunity for the economist to test some fundamental hypotheses on the origin and the rationale of human civilization. As Foucault pointed out, archaeology supports a historiography that does not rest on the primacy of the consciousness of individual subjects, and 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

The direct Syrian involvement in the development of infrastructures is indicative of the strong support that we will receive at the national level. With the results of the TGSF grants, future funding will be sought both from international donors, such as the World Bank, the Arab Fund, the Aga Khan Foundation, from the European Union Framework Program and from commercial sponsors (Shell and Gulfsands have already supproted our excavations in the past).. 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).