Libyan Desert Archaeological Heritage: Research helps to shape governmental policy and preserve cultural heritage
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Leicester
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Built Environment and Design: Architecture
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Curatorial and Related Studies
Summary of the impact
This research in Libya has had several significant impacts with wide
reach for a range of different groups, both national and international. It
has made fundamental contributions to the archaeological mapping of Libya
(a country of extraordinary archaeological richness but still poorly
recorded), to the development of typologies of sites and artefacts, and to
dating frameworks. This has delivered major related impacts for management
of cultural heritage by the Libyan Department of Antiquities (DoA), and
for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and archaeological mitigation
work by oil companies in the Libyan desert. There have been additional
benefits through dissemination of new historical models, as well as
protection of heritage sites during the 2011 conflict.
The archaeological work in the UoA was by teams led by Professor Graeme
Barker (1993-2002) and Professor Mattingly (1993-present). It has made
pioneering contributions to the mapping and classification of Libya's
desert heritage over the last 20 years, though this impact case study
focuses only on impacts derived from the work within the REF period. The
body of research includes: detailed regional archaeological surveys in the
Tripolitanian (western) predesert zone (1 in publication list in
section 3) and in the large southwestern area of Fazzan (4).
Primary publication of these large datasets is complemented by regional
syntheses (2); period maps of Classical archaeology at 1:1,000,000
scale for the whole of Libya (3) and overviews of preservation
issues of desert heritage (5). The total area covered by the
regional surveys is c.140,000 sq km (comprising 87,500 sq km for the
UNESCO Libyan Valleys Survey (ULVS), 52,500 sq km for the Fazzan Project
(FP)) with a notably rich but previously poorly mapped heritage comprising
1000s of archaeological sites and spanning 100,000s of years of history.
The results of many months of fieldwork and follow up analysis illuminate
a range of key questions relating to Libya's desert heritage.
Where? The work has produced not only regional-scale mapping of
site locations, but also the first detailed record and interpretation of
extensive palimpsest archaeological landscapes, revealing a previously
unsuspected scale of desert farming communities. In the absence of a
national sites and monuments register in Libya, these publications provide
the foundational record of this large element of Libya's archaeological
heritage. When? The contribution is particularly strong for the
record of historical civilisations of the last three millennia, but
prehistory is also well represented in terms of lithic scatters, rock art
and camp sites. The dating frameworks established by these projects (with
pottery study also involving some external staff, but supported by
extensive use of AMS dates) are of wide applicability in western and
southern Libya and neighbouring areas of the Sahara and Maghreb. What?
The research has also created standard typologies for morphological
classification of sites, as well as for a range of structural features and
artefacts, especially pottery. The site gazetteers and finds publications
will be the essential reference material for anyone working in or dealing
with the archaeology of these areas for many years to come and are of
particular value because of their broad diachronic coverage. How?
The means by which human communities have been able to farm the desert
have also been illuminated through these studies, whether exploiting
groundwater in oases (4) or using floodwater farming technology to
utilise irregular rainfall (1). In the case of the work on the
Garamantes of the central Saharan region of southern Libya, the prior
assumption that the Garamantes were a barbaric nomadic tribe has been
overturned in favour of recognising a sedentary, urban and village
dwelling, agricultural society, with the markers of an advanced
civilisation (giving them a new importance in Libya's cultural history).
All combined, the mapping of sites (to reveal the number of heritage
assets), the establishment of typology (to organise this mass of data in
terms of their individual character and form) and creation of new dating
frameworks (to place the data within a coherent chronology) have
transformed understanding and set new parameters for the management and
protection of Libya's heritage.
The results are also a fundamental contribution for future research
initiatives and for realising the potential of Libya's heritage in the
fields of education and tourism.
References to the research
• Publication of item (1) was supported by a grant of £40,000 from
the Society for Libyan Studies in 1993-94.
• The FP fieldwork (1997-2002) and post-excavation work (2002-11) (PI
Mattingly) (4) supported by grants totalling £540K (from: the
Society for Libyan Studies (£130K), British Academy (£55K), Leverhulme
Trust (£220K), AHRB/C (£70K), NERC (£65K)
• The Desert Migrations Project (DMP - PI Mattingly) (2007-2011)
funded mainly by the Society for Libyan Studies (£160,000) with additional
grants from National Geographic, OXY, RPS, British Academy worth £70,000
1. G.W.W. Barker, D.D. Gilbertson, G.D.B. Jones and D.J. Mattingly. Farming
the Desert. The UNESCO Libyan Valleys Archaeological Survey. Volume 1,
Synthesis. (principal editor, G. Barker), Volume 2, Gazetteer
and Pottery (principal editor, D.J. Mattingly), Paris/London (1996).
Pp. xx and 404 and pp. xxii and 394. Winner of the James Wiseman book
Award of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA).
2. D.J. Mattingly, Tripolitania. Batsford, London (1995). Pp.
xxii and 266. [Arabic translation, Tripoli 2009, pp. 608]
3. D.J. Mattingly, `Tripolitana', `Garama', `Syrtica', `Cyrene', `Ammon'.
In R. Talbert (ed), Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World,
Princeton (2000): maps 35-38 and 73 and Map-by-Map Directory p. 529-69,
4. D.J. Mattingly, C.M. Daniels, J.N. Dore, D. Edwards and J. Hawthorne.
The Archaeology of Fazzan. Volume 1, Synthesis. London (2003). Pp.
xxvi and 430, 460 figures. Volume 2, Site Gazetteer, Pottery and Other
Survey Finds. Pp xxx and 522. Volume 3, Excavations carried out
by C.M. Daniels. London, 2010. Pp. xxvi and 574. Volume 4
Excavations at Old Jarma. London, 2013. (edited by D. Mattingly).
Publication of the volumes was supported by grants worth £80,000 from
Shell, OXY and BP, indicating the high esteem for the work in the Oil
5. D.J. Mattingly, S. McLaren, E. Savage, Y. al-Fasatwi and K. Gadgood. The
Libyan Desert: Natural Resources and Cultural Heritage. London
(2006). Pp. x and 338.
Details of the impact
Impacts (detailed below) have been multiple for several specified groups,
including both individual and closely focused examples as well as
cumulative and wide-ranging ones.
The impacts have had relevance both nationally (in terms of
heritage documentation, protection and management; education; capacity
building within Libya) and internationally (with regard to the
management and exploitation of desert environments and mitigation
practices involved in oil industry prospection and extraction). Through
public lectures, TV broadcasts and other media exposure, the research has
informed Libyans about their regional and national cultural heritage and
underpinned popular dissemination of key results to a global audience of
many millions; it has provided the DoA and foreign consultants carrying
out archaeological mitigation work with fundamental archaeological
datasets and dating and typological frameworks; it has presented Libya's
desert heritage to a large global audience and helped international
organisations like Blue Shield (an international body charged with the
protection of cultural property during armed conflict) to preserve that
heritage during the 2011 civil war by contributing to the `no strike' list
of sites and monuments supplied to NATO command.
Mapping heritage sites in Libya: A major problem for the DoA is
their lack of a national monuments record (E1 - E numbers relate to
evidence listed in section 5). For the Tripolitanian pre-desert zone
and Fazzan, the results of the Leicester surveys provide the fullest
current listing and mapping of sites. The dating frameworks and site
typologies have been widely adopted by others working in these regions (a
recent World Bank report included a catalogue of Libya's most significant
heritage sites, c.36% of which identified the Leicester surveys as the
primary reference point). The wider mapping of Classical sites across
Libya published in the Barrington Atlas (item 3 above) has subsequently
been adopted as the basis for the primary online mapping facility and
digests dealing with the Classical World (Pleiades) (E2). After the
Libyan civil war broke out in February 2011, the US Committee for Blue
Shield enlisted the assistance of archaeologists with Libyan expertise
(including Mattingly) to compile a list of the co-ordinate locations and
brief descriptions of Libya's most significant heritage sites (E3).
The eventual key list of c.250 sites was largely based on Mattingly's
mapping work (sites included in Pleiades and regional surveys) and he was
one of two main contributors of site descriptions (E3). The list
was passed to NATO and other interested parties. Subsequent Blue Shield
inspection and reports have confirmed that war damage to monuments by the
NATO bombing mission was largely avoided in contrast to what happened in
Classifying heritage sites in Libya: the typologies devised by the
Leicester-based projects have been adopted, or influenced the descriptive
categories used, by other archaeologists. The Libyan DoA calls it "one of
the best studies in the field of documentation, researching and protection
of the Libyan Saharan heritage" (E5). In addition, oil industry
related archaeological mitigation work (E1 and E5) has made
use of these typological frameworks in designing their own surveys
(Mattingly has worked both through consultancy and unpaid advocacy with
OXY 2008-2009; Shell 2008-2009; BP 2010-11). The Principal Historic
Environment Consultant for RPS (one of the major players in Environmental
Impact Assessment and Archaeological Mitigation work in the oil sector in
Libya) confirms that the "methodological template ... archaeological
datasets, typologies and chronologies of UL's Fazzan project provided an
essential basis for the research and recording methodologies used during
our surveys in Libya" (E1).
Economic Benefits: RPS has carried out work for oil companies
(worth £330K to RPS) utilising the Leicester site data and typologies and
notes that "the results of the research carried out by UL in the Fazzan
under Professor Mattingly were instrumental in making our work effective
and successful, and have had a significant beneficial longer-term effect
on our business and methods" (E1). Oil companies operating in Libya
have a legal responsibility to mitigate damage to heritage, with
potentially serious financial liabilities for non-compliance. Completion
of such mitigation work on schedule also effectively saves oil companies
multi-million dollar sums in costs. As well as helping preserve vital
information on heritage that would be lost or damaged in exploration and
field development, the raising of the standard of mitigation work has also
enabled oil companies to fulfil better their community engagement
responsibilities, as in the case of BP's Ghadames heritage project (E5).
On a different note, book sales within the REF period of the publications
cited in section 3 above, plus subsidies received from commercial partners
for several of them, totalled c. £67,000 for the Society for Libyan
Studies (a significant proportion of its publications-related income in
the period). Contributions to several TV programmes have likewise given
important support to the profits of UK broadcasters such as the BBC (E10).
Educational impacts: Mattingly delivered 12 lectures in Libya to a
combined audience of c.600 people (expat and Libyan: al-Graifa, Fazzan
2009, OXY camp Fazzan 2008, OXY offices Tripoli 2008, 2009, other Tripoli
2010 (x 4), Ghadames 2010, 2011, BP offices Tripoli 2010). He was
interviewed by Libyan media in 2010 following two lectures to 200 invited
Libyan and VIP guests in Tripoli on his work on the Garamantes (E6).
At the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)'s invitation, he
made a briefing presentation on Libya's heritage to the incoming British
ambassador, Richard Northern, in May 2010. In July 2011, Mattingly
provided an interview to a newly founded archaeological online journal in
Benghazi highlighting key educational possibilities for the new era (E7).
Protecting heritage sites in Libya: An important result of a
conference on Desert Heritage organised by Mattingly and held in Tripoli
in 2002 was the drafting of a Sahara Code (like UK Country Code) to
promote sustainable use of the Sahara and preservation of its culture and
environment (publication (6)). This has been adopted and printed on
tourist maps and in guidebooks (E8). The letter from the DoA notes
that the publications mentioned in this case study "drew the attention of
the oil companies working in the area and obligated them to respect
heritage of the areas of their concessions and they started contacting the
Department asking for archaeological surveys prior to the start of their
TV programmes and magazine/web dissemination: The 2008-13 Libyan
work of the Leicester team has featured in >100 media outlets in >30
countries worldwide (TV and radio news, newspapers and magazines -
including Science Magazine, Nature Magazine, National Geographic Magazine,
New Scientist, Current World Archaeology (E9). TV programmes
include Jeremy Keenan's Sahara trilogy, BBC2/Iain Stewart, How Earth Made
Us (water episode with 3.1 million and a 12.5% share of viewing in UK and
many more than that for worldwide version) and Rome's Lost empire (4.3
million UK audience) (E10). In 2000 there were c. 300 weblinks to
"Garamantes" on Google, there are now 118,000+, largely linking to the
work of the Leicester team.
Capacity building in Libya: The most recent President of the DoA
was a Leicester graduate and two more of Libya's most prominent
archaeologists also did postgraduate study at Leicester; one is setting up
Libya's first Centre for Archaeological Data Collection. The UoA's Fazzan
Project/Desert Migrations Project and British Petroleum (BP) projects have
provided enhanced skills training for c.40 Libyan archaeologists and
another 12 have been trained on oil company surveys led by Mattingly. The
significance of the training work is attested in the letters from the
Department of Antiquities and from BP (E5).
Sources to corroborate the impact
E1. Letter from Principal Historic Environment Consultant, RPS
relating to importance of University of Leicester work in shaping
archaeological mitigation work carried out by his company.
http://pleiades.stoa.org/ for the open access mapping of Classical
archaeology in Libya derived from Leicester work
E3. Emails requesting help in compiling no strike list for US
Defence Department Analysts acknowledging key role of Mattingly.
E4. NATO and Blue Shield reports on effectiveness of the `no
strike' list in averting accidental damage to sites during NATO airborne
There is a good account of Blue Shield's `no strike' list in J. Kila and
J. Zeidler. Cultural Heritage in the Crosshairs: Protecting Cultural
Property (2013), p. 24-28 (p. 24 names Mattingly amongst those responsible
for compiling no strike list).
E5. Letters from British Petroleum (BP) & the Libyan
Department of Antiquities relating to significance of University of
Leicester site dossiers, typologies and methodologies and training
initiatives, especially in relation to oil industry mitigation work.
reporting on public presentation in Tripoli in October 2010 of
archaeological results of work on Garamantes.
E7. Presentation (in Arabic) of Mattingly's work on Libyan
heritage in issue 1 (August 2011) of a new archaeological magazine, http://www.afaqatherya.com/
E8. Scans showing publication in non-academic forums
of the Saharan Code - from Tourist map (2008) and P. Kenrick.
Tripolitania. Guidebook (2009). The code is also reprinted in Kenrick's
E9. List of media hits for story of discovery of Garamantian
E10. Broadcast figures for TV work and Society for Libyan Studies