Thursday, December 18, 2014

News: The ancient stone quarries in Egypt as a new, serial World Heritage Site?

Stone quarries were extremely important in ancient cultures, yet they are hardly represented on the World Heritage List. This might be due to misconceptions of the nature of such sites, as producers of raw materials “only”. 

Deserves a place on the World Heritage List: The Gebel el-Silsila 
ancient sandstone quarries. Photo: Tom Heldal
But in reality many quarry sites were places of outstanding craftsmanship, engineering and organisation, not least in Ancient Egypt. In a paper written by James Harrell and myself some four years ago (and only now available), we propose establishing a serial World Heritage Site comprising selected Ancient Egyptian quarries. Few cultures relied on their quarries as much as Ancient Egypt; thus it would be natural that a comprehensive World Heritage Site addressing quarries should be set up just here along the Nile.

Back in 2010, before the revolution in Egypt, James Harrell and I were asked to contribute to an international workshop in Cairo, on the “Harmonization of African World Heritage Tentative Lists”. The workshop was organised by the Egyptian UNESCO Commission, in collaboration with The African World Heritage Fund. In 2013 the proceedings from the workshop were finalised and recently I received the collection of interesting papers and summaries from the editor, Professor and World Heritage Coordinator Samir Ghabbour at Cairo University.

The workshop addressed the imbalance in World Heritage Site types in Africa, and suggested ways to harmonise the tentative lists across the continent, to better represent the diverse natural and cultural heritage. Our contribution dealt with the famous ancient stone quarries in Egypt – a type of heritage that is not only strongly underrepresented on the list of African World Heritage, but also globally. In our paper we thus proposed working towards a serial nomination of the Egyptian quarries.

After the upheavals in Egypt, our four year-old paper might now seem a little outdated. Yet we believe that our basic message holds water: Quarries were extremely important in ancient cultures, not least in Egypt!, and thus they ought to be adequately represented on the World Heritage List. In our paper we note that:

“The Global Strategy of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre advocates a more balanced and representative World Heritage List in terms of both geographical distribution and types of sites and landscapes. Ancient stone quarries are one of the site types greatly under-represented on the current list. Many World Heritage Sites include ancient quarries within their boundaries, but in one case only has a site been selected due to its particular significance as an ancient quarry; the Spiennes flint quarry (or mine) in Belgium. In contrast, there is a dozen or so metal mining sites inscribed on the list.

Furthermore, at the moment there seems to be only two quarry sites on the tentative list (the Yapease “money” quarry sites in the Pacific and the Carrara marble basin in Italy [and now the Hyllestad millstone quarries in Norway]). Given that ancient quarry sites are extremely numerous across the world and that such production sites contributed vastly to sustaining ancient cultures and shaping their (and our) landscapes, there is undoubtedly a call to increase the number of such sites on the list, to be inscribed due to their primary significance as quarries……… Read More 
The link to the full Proceedings of the workshop Here 

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