Qatar and Archaeology

The press in Norway recently discussed the new source for funding for humanitarian and research purposes, namely the rich countries of the Arab world, illustrating both the positive and the negative aspects of the new ventures (see the article in Morgenbaldet from 26.04.2013: De nye giverne).
At the same time, Greece has had problems with the display in Qatar of an exhibition about the Olympic Games that should include a group of ancient statues. These were naturally naked, therefore an insult to the morals of the local society, and the solution to veil them promoted by the Qataris made the Greeks repatriate the statues!
How do these two dimensions of the involvement with culture, art and archaeology of the rich but in many ways conservative Arab world fit together?
In order to attempt to find answers to that topic, we will inevitably turn our attention to our main area of focus, the Sudan and the archaeology of the Middle Nile region: The role of Qatar as benefactor of culture and research has expanded immensely the last years and one of the countries that will profit the most from this new state of affairs seems to be Sudan.
It has been a long time that discussions have been taking place between Qatar and Sudan for a huge archaeological project. For the history of the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project see HERE and HERE and HERE.
It took almost a year, after the initial agreement, for the Sudanese to disclose the Project officially, and it is as we write these lines that finally (?) the two sides seem to have solved all the riddles of the huge investment of $ (!!) and that the money start(ed?) flowing into the accounts of those who will run the individual projects.
The intentions seem to be purely humanitarian and academic with the focus of work being not only the systematic digs of research-interesting sites, but also the creation of documentation centers and the improvement of the Sudan National Museum’s conditions of storage, of display and of cataloguing, the conservation of the existing monuments, the promotion of the sites for heritage management purposes – as well as tourism.
At the same time, the Qataris are also conducting a huge archaeological project in their own home, namely “The Origins of Doha Project” that aims to explore the foundations and historic growth of the Qatari capital. Thus, there is surely a change in the attitude of part at least of the Arab world to archaeology and cultural heritage management.
However, Qatar’s other financial activities in Sudan (building project in Khartoum, extensive land purchases along the Middle Nile etc.) may point to hidden agendas that concern financial interests rather than humanitarian and research purposes.
Moreover, further north in the Nile Valley, the Qataris are accused of profiting from the crisis in the Egyptian society that pushes many locals to illegal digging and antiquities’ smuggling and selling (see HERE for a very insightful article dealing with the topic more largely). Interestingly, Qatar has not signed the UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects
Against that background, how will the Sudan archaeologists profiting from the Qatar investment manage to meet some very peculiar clauses of the agreements that involve a quantitative approach to the archaeological work that does not fit with the reality of fieldwork?
In similar lines, how does the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project pair with the need that the country will be facing if indeed the dams planned along the Middle Nile are built and appeals for salvage campaigns are made by the Sudanese Antiquites’ Service?
If the majority of the agents of archaeology in northern Sudan are bound by the deadlines foreseen in the contracts of the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project, how will they manage to conduct salvage archaeology in view of the flooding of vast stretches of the Middle Nile to be caused by the creation of the reservoirs behind these dams?
Will all the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the few (for this great task) Sudanese archaeologists of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums?
There are no easy answers to these questions, so we can only hope that the worst is avoided. We will be following the developments closely. We will of course be reporting from here, and the first thing to do in that context will be to dedicate one of the coming entries to the salvage fieldwork by our local friends and colleagues at N.C.A.M. in eastern Sudan where the twin dam on the Upper Atbara is being constructed…
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2 Responses to Qatar and Archaeology

  1. dianabuja says:

    All very interesting. Hopefully the Qataris have moved beyond the 19th century pilfering of sites for museums that Europeans so happily engaged in. Looking forward to your updates on all of these issues!

  2. ergamenis says:

    Thanks for your comment! Let’s see what the future will bring…

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