The Urkesh Eco-Archaeological Park


Giorgio Buccellati, February 2014

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Bridging the distance
The young Syrian future
The Gulfsands Urkesh scholars

Bridging the distance

     Globalization comes as a blessing in our case. Dislocated though we are across three continents, we are in direct contact via the internet. Whether it is conference calls, or exchange of photographs (some 10,000 in three years!), or checking our websites, or simply e-mailing each other – we have a Mozan global net that is extremely active and productive.
     And we even meet in person... Through a number of venues, we have gathered in small and larger groups a number of different times. The common goal is to carry forward our continuous involvement in Mozan, no matter the odds. Archaeologists, we are used to the silence of the past. But we hear more and more the sound of life, a sound that truly echoes across the distance, whether of time or of space.
     A cadre of young Syrian students are working on their advanced degrees in various parts of the world, and they work alongside a number of post-docs. Together, we aim to blend the needs of their research programs with the needs of our project. And this is working out extremely well and productively.
     We are also reaching beyond scholarly research. An interesting example is a project we are just beginning in which an Italian post-doc (Stefania) works along with a Syrian student (Yasmine) to train a group of Italian High School students to develop sections of the Urkesh website in Italian. As it happens, Yasmine knows Italian perfectly, and has been to one of our study seasons in Italy. She is working on rendering in Arabic a selection of the pages from the website, and the idea came that the same could be done for Italian. So we will have a Syrian student in Damascus, under the general supervision of an Italian post-doc in Venice, supervising in turn a group of Italian high-schoolers... All of this through a direct connection via the internet...

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The young Syrian future

     We all know that the future is in the hands of the young. But it is in our hands, too. For there is no age barrier when we share the purpose in the same way that we share the means.
     I will give here unedited excerpts from the statements they sent me in which they summarize their experience with the project. The scholarly dimension is documented in the publications, the lectures, the website. But now we hear the voice of their commitment – and of their hope. It is catching.

Yasmine Mahmoud (Damascus)
     I started working in the Mozan project in 2008. I continued with the team through the seasons of 2009, 2010 and the study season in Italy in 2011. To me working in the project is the biggest opportunity of my life. It gave me a chance to understand the true work of archeology, from the moment of discovery to the final publication. It also gave me a chance to be a member of the Mozan family. And most of all, it gave a chance to contribute, even if only in a modest way, to my legacy as a Syrian.
     As a member of the Mozan project, I had the pleasure of traveling to Italy to work on the documentation. This trip was of great importance. It made me feel a sense of belonging to this project, and it made me feel that even though a war was starting in my country, we will continue on with our work even from a distance.
     Right now, I’m working on the record with other team members. And I have to say that this work in these times of hard ships in Syria is one of the things that keep feeding me hope. It’s a way to stay in touch with Mozan and with members of the team. Even though no one can come to Mozan in this period, we will keep working until one day we can all be reunited in a beautiful and peaceful Syria.
Hiba Qassar (Qamishli-Florence)
     Working in Tell Mozan changed my view to the potentials of archaeology in Syria. In my second year of archaeology I start working in tell Mozan in excavation and pottery analysis, a year after I got involved in site presentation and interacting with visitors and locals as well. This oriented my way in looking at archeology in Syria and made me aware of the problems that Syrian archeology is going through.
     After few years in Mozan an idea of an archeological park came out and how locals can get direct benefits from the site, this crystalized my ideas of what I want to do in archeology. After two years I started my PhD program in museology in Florence University. The background as an archeologist in general and the experience I got from Mozan in particular beside the critical situation that my country is going through were my guidance in choosing my thesis topic.
     Despite the difficulties I went through from losing my scholarship and other academic obstacles, I never lost the enthusiasm or faith in the research topic I want to do.
     My research idea was based on what I experienced in Mozan which is how to bridge the relation between Syrians and the ancient past of the country by introducing this past properly through museums, and the positive results we can get out of it starting from appreciating the ancient past and protecting it to strengthening the sense of belonging to one ancient past of the country.
     Working in the project didn’t change and improve my perception to the ancient past only, but looking at workmen from different villages and different ethnicities excavating together the ancient past of their country and caring about it changed my view also to the future. It made me believe in the potentiality of this past to gather people from different ethnicities in different ways and levels.
     Syria is suffering a bad conflict since almost three years which was called “a civil war in Syria” by most of the media. Almost a year ago the project of Urkesh gate gathered again women from different ethnicities to work together and produce some handmade objects. Looking at the project with its simplicity and these women together is so inspiring, and gave me hope to keep believing that these people are able to combat any political theory or social analysis that others think could be valid for them.
Samer Abdel Ghafour (Aleppo – Rome)
     When science combines with humanitarian. There is no slightest doubt about the advanced organization when it comes to talk among us as a community of archaeologist and cultural heritage specialist, about the scientific and administrative level of the Tell Mozan project. The relation with the local communities in the regions where we conduct our scientific projects, differs from one case to another. In a way or another its related to the wish and will of the directors more than any other reason.
     As I grew up within the team of this project I recognized the importance and care about the humanitarian side in the relation with the local workmen and collaborators. That was obvious to me during my long term of participation in times of tranquility. Unemployment, inflation, and losing the hope for better future; these elements and more, accompanied the local workmen of the project, during the past three year of unrest in my home country Syria. Some of them scattered in the neighboring countries or even in the Europeans countries.
     As I moved by the end of 2012 to Italy I continued my participation and collaboration. More or less I'm in the center where I see, feel, and touch the tremendous efforts of the directors to offer whatever help or assistance for them. These current efforts are double fold of what it was before the unrest due to the difficulties in communications, fund raising.
Rasha Elendari (Sueda - Toronto)
     Sometimes the greatest things in our lives start with very small coincidences. It was on the street when I run into my friend and his cousin, who was the photographer of Tell Mozan. Chatting with them I mentioned that I was looking for a site where I can do fieldwork, to which the photographer recommended I should apply to work at Tell Mozan. Having heard about Tell Mozan I still didn’t know what working there would be like. On faith, I sent my application the day after and got accepted to join the dig in the coming summer. That was 2003 and it was my third year of undergrad in archaeology. The significance of going to Tell Mozan was more than it being the furthest and most isolated place I have ever been to at that time. It was more being involved with one of the most progressive digs I’ve ever seen; adopting the newest technology and educational methods while offering meaningful diversity and a homelike environment. Since that first summer, Tell Mozan has been a part of my life and a turning point for my future.
     With the support of directors Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, who themselves welcomed me with open arms into their family, also encouraged me to follow a career in archaeology. In 2007, I started working full-time at the Tell Mozan Project and was fortunate to be a part of the Urkesh Global Record (UGR) publication, translation and organizing several events. One of the events was an exhibit of tell Mozan in conjunction with the American Embassy and American Center in Damascus.
     Through this work, I was introduced to the Fulbright Scholarship and started working on the application to continue to pursue a master degree in the United States. Of course, Giorgio and Marilyn were a big support as they wrote recommendation letters and even invited me to Los Angeles to work on the UGR in their lab at UCLA. This was my first experience with the American university system and western student life. The two months I stayed there was a great experience where I met many friends and professors that shared my interests.
     In 2009, I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship and started university applications. Again it was the Buccellatis who helped me through this foreign process and get set up at the University of Arkansas to do my Master’s degree. Now I am at the University of Toronto, pursuing a PhD, and it is in large part due to the impact that Tell Mozan, Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, and their continued support through good and bad times that have gotten me to where I am today. For that I am thankful. Even as I am finishing my studies – I hope to always be a part of the Tell Mozan Project.
Ani Eblighatian (Aleppo-Geneva)
     During my bachelor at the University of Aleppo, the site of Urkesh had the reputation for being the best scientific archeological mission in Syria. In summer 2008, I got the chance to participate in the excavations of Tell Mozan, which remained a unique experience, for the quality of the organization, the work, as well as the richness of the site itself.
     Although I couldn’t participate in the following years, the contact with the team, especially the directors Prof. Giorgio Buccellati and Prof. Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati, remained naturally, due to the respect and the friendly social, as well as their supportive spirit to the young archeologists. I was always looking forward to get the opportunity to work within the Urkesh team again.
     In November 2013, while their conference in Geneva, once again I got amazed, this time by the constructive realistic approach in the painful depressive period of Syria, the way to keep the work go on by the cooperation with Syrians in Syria, in restoring the site, founding a museum, to keep the value of Syria’s identity and culture by concentrating on the positive energy. The example inspired me in my personal project, to keep on and aim doing the positive goal despite of the complicated situation, yet getting the opportunity to contribute for the Urkesh project made me honored as I may do something for Syria through this important project which is the base in preserving the roots of Syria, the mosaic of cohabitated cultures during millenniums.

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The Gulfsands Urkesh scholars

     The young post-docs who are working on our project are both carrying forward their own research and providing guidance for the Syrian advanced students, who are working alongside them. A number of publications are in the offing: they will leave a permanent mark in the field as a document for the uniqueness of the project we are undertaking.

Caitlin Chaves Yates (Boston)
     I have been a member of the Mozan team for the last 7 years, with my first season in Mozan during the summer of 2007. Over the 7 years I have worked in various capacities for the project working on projects ranging from site presentation, to excavations, to digital publication, to survey, and to the development of the Urkesh Park.
     Over the years I have found the work at Mozan has served as an excellent education and a form of personal and professional enrichment. Excavating such a large site with intact stone architecture has taught me a lot about excavation techniques, team leadership and data recording. Additionally, some of the work would later go on to be incorporated as the primary data of my dissertation, which was completed in December 2013.
     While receiving my PhD was certainly personally fulfilling, I find my work on the Urkesh Park to be the most inspiring. The Park work has brought me in contact with numerous people around the world who are all working together on the various aspects of the Park development, all with the goal of providing a positive, beneficial, and authentic form of tourism, development and archaeology to Tell Mozan. The international scope of the project, particularly the involvement of Syrians, is the kind of cooperative project that is absolutely necessary for the protection of sites and the rebuilding of heritage infrastructure.
     For all 7 years I have also worked on publishing the excavation results. While this work may seem tedious to non-archaeologists, it is – in actuality – one of the most important works an archaeologist does. Producing a full digital record of the excavations means that researchers, interested laymen and excavators of the future can have access to both the data and our interpretations.
     Overall, when reflecting on my work at Mozan I feel a mix of sadness and hopefulness. A sadness for the projects that have gone unrealized in the past 3 years and a hopefulness that the kind of collaboration I am now taking part in will form a basis for future work and for the rebuilding of Syria’s heritage.
Laerke Recht (Copenhagen)
     I have now been working on the Urkesh Project for a little over two years (since September 2011). Initially, I was to be part of the excavation team in 2011, but as we were not able to go that year due to the crisis, I instead participated in the study season in Italy. Here I became familiar with the large amount of data collected during the field excavations, and the digital manner in which the data is being processed and presented.
     These are both highly unusual for archaeological ‘publication’, and the ‘digitality’ of has the great advantage of not only allowing the display of a lot of information, but also of easily moving around and between the data and thereby placing it in its correct and broader context. I have repeated seen the use that can be made of this, both within the project and in my personal academic research.
Stefania Ermidoro (Venice)
     My involvement in the Urkesh/Tell Mozan Project started in 2008, as a member of the archaeological expedition. Since then, my participation in the activities both in the field and for the UGR and the Urkesh website has increased: today, it includes a broad series of tasks related mostly to the Site Presentation and Site Conservation Projects. Meanwhile, my scholastic career has proceeded on a quite different direction: in fact, I have recently defended a doctoral dissertation which had a strong historical nature and focused on the History of Food, specifically on royal banquets in first millennium BC Assyria.
     I do not consider my involvement within the Mozan Project as merely complementary to my studies: on the contrary, the three years that I have spent working actively in Mozan and the ones that have followed, during which I dealt with the UGR and the Urkesh website, have greatly contributed to my personal and academic growth.
     This could happen because, in my opinion, one distinctive feature of the work concerning Mozan is a peculiar attention to every moment of the archaeological expedition, from its ideation and strategy to its more practical aspects (excavation and conservation), to its presentation to the public and publication. In each of these phases, experts and specialists are involved: this system has allowed me to meet many people who helped me in learning and improving my knowledge on archaeology, conservation issues, even information technology and digitalization of data. Moreover, I have always acknowledged to the Urkesh/Mozan Project a special attention as for the relationship with the local community in Syria, which is based on mutual respect and confidence: indeed, I am personally experiencing such unique connection in particular since the beginning of our work away from Syria. I am, as a matter of fact, in charge of two projects which could never have continued during this particular and difficult historical moment, if it wasn't for such deep-rooted and longlasting relationship with local workmen.
     For both the Conservation and Site Presentation in fact, we are in constant need of photos and written reports sent from the field, which we can use to monitor the conditions of the archaeological remains and of the ancient architectures. Thus, our assistants in the field are indispensable: I have always considered them extremely efficient, thanks to the experience gained after years of cooperation with the expedition - but also on the basis of personal knowledge and of a sensitivity that has grown even stronger now that they feel as the only guardians of the site.
     Within the Urkesh/Mozan project, the theoretical aspects of archaeology, in its broader meaning, have always been crucial during each decisional phase from excavation to publication and presentation. For this reason, as a member of the group and as an active participant to the system I feel that I’m learning a method and some working skills which will be extremely useful for every other aspect of my personal and academic career.
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