Jordanian Heritage Authorities, the Getty Conservation Institute, and World Monuments Fund Announce Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities

Under the Patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, The Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA), the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) in Los Angeles, and World Monuments Fund (WMF) are launching the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities, Jordan—MEGA-Jordan or MEGA-J—an Arabic-English, web-based geographic information system (GIS) that aims to standardize and centralize information on archaeological sites throughout the country into a single system.

“The preservation of Jordan’s archaeological heritage depends upon a comprehensive understanding of historic site locations, dimensions, and their key characteristics, but the boundaries of ancient cities and sites are increasingly at risk from a range of threats including tourism and urban encroachment,” said Dr. Ziad Al-Sa’ad, Director General of the DoA. “The database will greatly facilitate the work of the DoA staff, Jordanian scholars and academic colleagues worldwide, and will play an important role in preserving Jordan’s archaeological treasures.”

MEGA-J will allow the DoA to assess the potential impact of projects such as construction of buildings, roadways, and pipelines on or near archaeological sites. This particular encroachment risk is especially relevant in Jordan today due to the recent influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees, regional investment in the country, and the resulting boom in development.

Importantly, MEGA-J will enable the DoA to coordinate heritage site data with other national authorities, such as ministries dealing with infrastructure development, agriculture, and tourism, as well as provincial and municipal governments, and better track World Heritage site requirements.

The newly live GIS, which has been in development for the past four years, now serves as the primary tool for the DoA in its ongoing work of inventorying, monitoring, and managing Jordan’s vast number of cultural heritage sites. The system currently contains records of 10,750 sites and 45,000 site elements, which include the World Heritage Sites of Petra, Umm er-Rasas and Qasr Amra.

“The archaeological record found in Jordan is among the world’s most important. The Getty Conservation Institute has been privileged to partner with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and World Monuments Fund on this important new heritage preservation tool,” said Tim Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute.

Added Gaetano Palumbo, World Monuments Fund’s representative for the Middle East, “World Monuments Fund is delighted to aid Jordan in protecting and managing their important archaeological heritage. Jordan has long been a leader in site documentation and MEGA represents the latest generation of technology for the heritage sector.”

A new memorandum of understanding, signed today by the three partners, will include two years maintenance and support during the program implementation. The original development agreement was signed in 2007.

The DoA also plans to collaborate with the GCI and WMF to incorporate a heritage building component into the system in the future.

Jordan pioneered a database for the management of archaeological sites in the early 1990s, originally called JADIS. When that database needed to be replaced, the DoA turned to the GCI and WMF for the development of MEGA-J. Jordan has taken a pioneering role in implementing and fully integrating the use of MEGA-J into the DoA’s daily activities, and in training colleagues from the region. The DoA is proud to welcome colleagues from regional departments of antiquities (Palestine, Syria, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Iraq), in the hope they will be the next countries to implement the MEGA system.

MEGA-J, now live at www.megajordan.org, uses open source software that is sustainable, economic to implement, avoids the need for specialized training to use, and requires no specialized staffing to maintain. The MEGA system was originally developed by the GCI and WMF in conjunction with Farallon Geographics. The GCI and WMF also are working with the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage to implement MEGA.

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