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Partnership in Action: Training and managing the Heritage of Libya and Tunisia


The project started in 2013 in collaboration with Durham University (DU - Anna Leone), the Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut - Rome Department (DAI Roma - Ralf Bockmann) and the Department of Antiquities of Libya. The focus of this first phase of training (funded by DU and the DAI Rome), was on training heritage specialists to carry out on site recording and data management with the use of the GIS. This first phase focussed on the Djebel Nafusa, the Libyan heritage professionals surveyed the region and collected data. The gathered data was then used and elaborated on during later training sessions. This first phase of the project produced a co-authored paper: Nebbia, N., Leone, A., Bockmann, R., Hddad, M., Abdouli, H., Masoud, A. M., Elkendi, N., Hamoud, H., Adam, S. & Khatab, M. (2016). Developing a Collaborative Strategy to Manage and Preserve Cultural Heritage During the Libyan Conflict. The Case of the Gebel Nāfusa. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 23(4): 971-988.

In 2017, thanks to the major fund from the Cultural Protection Funds (GBP £956,135,00) the project expanded and was continued in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities of Libya and The Institut National du Patrimoine Tunisia with the aim to protect the cultural heritage of Libya and Tunisia. With the outcome of the project providing significant local and global socio-cultural, historic, scientific and economic worth. The project developed in collaboration with King’s college; UCL; the French Mission of Libya and the University of Marseilles-Aix en Provence.

The training was developed at the site of Iunca (Tunisia) and focussed on different aspects of digital recording. The work also provided the opportunity to carry out research on the site and to develop a management strategy for the site (“Protecting and Managing the site of Iunca” currently in press in AFRICA).

Iunca site image


The project has trained 72 heritage professionals from Tunisia and Libya on various forms of heritage recording (sites, monuments and objects) and public engagement, and four custom policemen on the organisation of illicit traffic. In addition the project has produced a co-authored paper on methodology and training: Leone, A., Wootton, w., Fenwick, C., Nebbia, M., Alkhalaf, H., Jorayev, G., Othman, A., Alhaddad, M., Belzic, M., Emrage, A., Siala, Z. & Voke, P. (2020). An integrated methodology for the documentation and protection of cultural heritage in the MENA region: a case study from Libya and Tunisia. Libyan Studies 2020: 1-24.

Partnership in Action is still continuing and has just received further funding from Gerda Henkel patrimonies to support the study and the recording of the impact of the conflict on the site and the theatre of Sabratha (Libya).

Protecting Archaeological sites

Throughout the initial project during 2013 to 2017 we developed a specific training methodology, which saw the participants collecting their own data between training sessions and then use this data for subsequent training material.

The project continued to train DoA staff in GIS and remote sensing in order to identify and record all archaeological sites/evidence in the landscape. This data was also analysed to target specific areas that would benefit from field survey. The objective of these targeted field surveys was to identify damage and predict potential dangers. The training was then extended to Tunisia for at-risk sites and regions. Dr Marco Nebbia was responsible for conducting this training.

In addition to the GIS training the project also provided training for DoA and INP staff in the use of rapid, replicable and easily-applied techniques for site documentation and non-intrusive prospection. This included the use of recent technologies, such as UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) and geophysical survey to map sites and to identify buried archaeological remains. The training was carried out at the site of Iunca and was developed to compliment the GIS skills that the participants had already acquired in the earlier phases of the project. Combining the data gathered during the fieldwork training allowed the project to identify risks and define the buffer zone for the site at Iunca. (Patricia Voke). Geophysical survey and drone training was conducted by Patricia Voke.

This training is intended to assist the preservation of sites at risk from conflict, development and looting by enhancing staff capabilities in documentation, survey skills. and cataloguing archaeological sites.

Between 2017 to September 2019 a total of eight Training sessions were carried out which enhanced knowledge and developed practical fieldwork skills amongst the trainees. The best trainees were selected to follow a programme for advanced training and were invited to develop their own mini projects. These mini projects would utilise the training and knowledge they had acquired throughout the project and apply that training to an archaeological site of their choice. The objective of the mini-projects was to continue to develop their training; acquire new archaeological data and to train other members of staff who did not participate in the original project.

Recording and protecting monuments, historic buildings and mosaics

Using ground based photogrammetry and scaled, archaeological drawing, we trained staff from the DoA and the INP in the detailed but rapid recording of individual monuments. The result of this training taught the trainees how to create detailed elevations that included information such as architectural decoration and mosaics.

A total of eight training sessions on ground based and aerial photogrammetry were conducted between 2017 and 2018. The aim of this phase of training was to support the trainees to create records for extant monuments (i.e. building plans, elevations, 3D models). These records could then be used to assess the significance of monuments and their current perseveration conditions. This data would also form the baseline of information, in order to design conservation strategies and assist in the development of overall site management plans.

Aerial photogrammetry training was also provided during the project that included training on flying UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), data capture for photogrammetry and post-processing of data for the production of 3D models. With the UAV training the skills our participants learnt during this course taught them how to produce rapid models of archaeological remains that could be easily replicated at their own sites that they manage and protect. The results of these UAV surveys could be used to analysis on-going preservation at each site and document changes or threats to the conservation of the archaeological remains.

As a result of the training, each participant gained a greater understanding of the role of UAV surveys, its applications and limitations in archaeological recording and documentation. They developed knowledge on several UAV techniques and learnt how to determine on a site by site basis what would be the most appropriate technique. Each participant gained the ability to assess an archaeological landscape as a whole and to design specific research aims and utilise UAV surveys where appropriate to meet these objectives. They also developed a good understanding of UAV safety and where would be appropriate locations to deploy this technique in the safest manner possible.

Managing Museum Collections and Storerooms

The project trained staff in on site, object cataloguing and basic preventative conservation in museums and focused on good storage practices. Archaeological sites in Libya and Tunisia have large numbers of objects and archaeological remains scattered across sites which have never been recorded. These remains are primarily threatened by looting however they are also at threat from natural destruction such as erosion. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a strategy for the rapid recording and documentation of these numerous remains, before they vanish from the archaeological record.

In addition, to traditional documentation practices, we introduced the trainees to a new tablet recording application (HeDAP – Heritage Documentation And Protection). HeDAP was developed by Durham University in order to aid object recording. The application has the ability to record information on location; photogrammetry models and state of preservation. This information is then compiled and recorded to help prevent theft and enable condition monitoring for each item. The system’s database can also help international organisations such as Interpol to track stolen items. The final aim is to create a National Museum database with the data gathered in HeDAP. This part of the project is still in developmental stages and we aim to complete a National catalogue in the future.

What is the HeDAP ?

The HeDAP project consists of 3 components:

  • The HeDAP Android App to rapidly record artefacts in the field.
  • The HeDAP Database to provide long-term storage and management of the collected data in the absence of an existing institutional database.
  • The HeDAP Portal to host project documentation and support, and potentially host the HeDAP Database in case of an absence of an existing institutional host.

These components may be mixed-and-matched as needed to meet local requirements. The App could be used to record objects and the data uploaded to an existing institutional database. The Database could be used without the App to import and manage existing paper or spreadsheet inventories or catalogues and could be run locally on a PC, hosted on the internet by the institution themselves. We purposely designed the components of HeDAP to be flexible and to work in conjunction with existing archives rather than redesigning a whole new methodology.

Research and excavation

Within the framework of the project, training and excavation has been carried out at church 3 at the site of Iunca- carried out by a team of professional archaeologists from Durham University in collaboration with staff members from the Institut National de Patrimoine in Tunisia INP (Dr Ammar Othman). The church was excavated in the 1950s and subsequently abandoned. Since 2018, a secondary aim of the training project has been to rescue the monument through cleaning, restoration and limited excavation. Walls and parts of mosaics were conserved and a new, accurate plan of the church was produced. During the removal of debris from the colonial period excavation a tomb was discovered. Due to its level of perseveration and the threat to the remaining archaeological material it was deemed necessary to excavate it. The excavation of the tomb was extremely complex, as it contained a minimum of 60 individuals which are now in the process of being analysed. The excavation of the tomb and its analysis were generously funded by the Ruddock Foundation for the Arts.

The site of Iunca includes the remains of three churches which were excavated during the colonial period. They are located respectively to the south-west and the west of the fort of the ancient town. Unfortunately, after the non-stratigraphic excavations carried out respectively in the 1920s (church 1 and 2) and the 1950s (church 3) the monuments were mostly neglected. The monumentality of the three churches reflect the importance of the site of Iunca especially in the 6th - 7th Century.

Church No. 3

Church 3, located to the south west of the fort, was in danger of being lost, due to the invasive vegetation and the modern activities. These activities included the planting of olive trees and digging of a deep well. In accordance with the INP the first intervention took place, which included removal of the vegetation and cleaning which allowed the team to assess the condition of the monument. This church is a unique example of a transept basilica in North Africa, the preliminary plans of the structure published in the 1950s and the 1960 are, however, incorrect and the work conducted in the project has allowed the creation of new and accurate plans.

The church has been used as a training hub for archaeologists and conservators. They have in particular worked in defining the stratigraphic sequence of the standing structures and the on-site conservation of the structures. The church in its current state was built around the mid-6th century AD and later extended in the southern part. In proximity to the south west apse the afore mentioned grave containing a minimum of 60 individuals was uncovered and excavated in order to protect the contents of the grave from future destruction.

The Mini Projects

Theme 1- Archaeological Survey (Geophysical survey, GIS and Remote Sensing)

These projects utilised the skills acquired during the fieldwork training and they used various survey techniques such as geophysical survey, remote sensing, pottery cataloguing and Geographical Information Systems (GIS).
In general, there were six mini projects which focused on archaeological survey, three in Libya and three in Tunisia. Three projects used geophysical survey, two of these were in Tunisia and one project in Libya. All projects included the training of other colleagues, ten in total, and the creation of new teams. The data is now being used by the DoA and INP to manage these sites and protect them from encroachment from development and other building activity.

Theme 2 – Integrated methodology (GIS, Photogrammetry and Condition Assessment)

These projects combined the assessment of the condition of monuments with GIS and photogrammetry to produce new documentation, enhance the assessments, and aid the monitoring of sites.

In total, nine projects used our integrated methodology: five in Tunisia and four in Libya. Each project created a team and transferred skills to their colleagues which relate to photogrammetry, condition assessment, GIS, and outreach activities. The total number of new colleagues who have been trained by our advanced trainees is 14. The condition assessment were conducted at two World Heritage sites in Libya, Sabratha and Leptis Magna, were included in the ‘State of Conservation’ Report submitted to UNESCO in February 2019. As a result of the mini projects, emergency interventions have taken place at two sites in Tunisia: Sidi Moussa El Jemni and Ad Aquas.

Theme 3 – HeDAP: Heritage Documentation and Protection App

The HeDAP – Heritage Documentation and Protection App and its associated database have been developed by Durham University in order to create a National Museum Database (a complete catalogue including all objects contained in museums, storerooms and on open sites), to enable the better management of those collections and to protect them from looting and illicit traffic.

These projects have documented around 5,808 objects in both countries, included six museums in Tunisia and ten museums in Libya, and two sites in Tunisia and four sites in Libya. A national team in Tunisia has been created and trained by our trainees using the same database. While in Libya the trainees, through these mini-projects, are working towards creating a unified database for museums across the country.