International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East

Prof. Dr. Iman Saca, Vice President Designate for Academic Affairs at Bethlehem University, was invited to give a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE) that was held in Copenhagen, from 22 to 26 May 2023.

She delivered her speech in the Ceremonial Hall of the University of Copenhagen. The focus of her keynote was on community engagement as a method of enriching and decolonizing the field of archaeology as well as protecting archaeological Heritage sites in the Near East.

In her keynote speech, Dr. Iman declared that if archaeologists and heritage workers are truly concerned about the future of the heritage of the Near East; if they are concerned with keeping the field of archaeology relevant and if archaeologists are truly interested in protecting the world’s archaeological heritage, then heritage education and the true involvement of local communities should not only be an “add-on” to archaeological projects, or an afterthought, but she argued that community engagement should become an integral part of archaeological research and  fieldwork in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. 

She pointed out that archaeological research and fieldwork conducted today is not only an instrument for historic and scientific study but also a source of collective memory, identity, local history and heritage. 

She argued that community engagement carried out through a community archaeology approach and a heritage education strategy is not a “politically correct” way to practice archaeology, but it is the only way to insure the protection of sites and the inclusion of local voices closest to a particular heritage. It is through meaningful inclusion that we can insure the ethical multi-vocality of interpretations and the preservation, protection and sustainable use of the archaeological and natural heritage sites in MENA regions as well as other parts of the world.

She was commended on her demand that in the MENA region specifically, the Goal is to bring true change to the way archaeology has been conducted in a region where local communities have been systematically excluded, for a variety of reasons, from both the process of discovering their past and in the construction of knowledge concerning their past heritage. 

At the Conference, Prof. Iman Saca also officially represented the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in the session dedicated to the General Directors of archaeology from the Near East. The purpose is to present on the state of archaeology in their respective countries, Dr. Iman Saca Presented on the State of Archaeology in Palestine. 

The presentation highlighted the archeological fieldwork and various archaeological heritage projects carried out in Palestine, including joint excavations, restoration projects, documentation and outreach efforts and the state of preservation of archeological and cultural heritage sites. She explained the current status of archaeology in the Palestinian territories and the facts on the ground in Areas A, B and C in relations to 1993 and 1995 Oslo agreements.

She clarified that since the complete transfer of authorities in Area C (which was expected to take place in 1999) did not happen, the Palestinians still do not have control over archeological sites in area C. she also expressed concern over the clear Israeli encroachment on areas B which, according to the Oslo agreements, are under Palestinian control. As an example, she highlighted the illegal removal of archaeological objects from the villages of Taqua’ and ‘Atara.

Professor Saca sighted international Laws and various UNESCO conversations that protect the archaeological heritage in the Palestinians territories, these same laws clearly forbid the state of Israel, as an occupying power from conducting archaeological work in these territories.  

After this introduction, Professor Saca highlighted the achievements of the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage. She listed the various joint excavation, restoration and preservation projects carried out with international and local institutions and universities.

She also highlighted various documentation efforts using modern technology, and various public outreach and education programs. She also highlighted the impressive ongoing work to update and also establish museums, in all the districts of Palestine, including site, virtual and mobile Museums.

Professor Saca also reviewed the exceptional efforts to list sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. She mentioned the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls (listed by Jordan in 1981), and elaborated on the listing of the Birthplace of Jesus Church of The Nativity And the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem in 2012, Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines- Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir in 2014 and Hebron/Al-Khalil Old Town 2017. She declared that currently the Ministry is working on the nomination file for listing Ancient Jericho/ tell es-Sultan. 

At the end she briefly informed the audience about Decree-Law No.11 of 2018. She explained that the old antiquities law was grounded in the conventional concepts of archeology. The new law moves beyond narrow definitions and ancient periods to include many different categories of cultural resources including archeological sites, historical buildings and features, and significant vernacular architecture, viewed comprehensively within the physical and cultural contexts.  She elaborated that the Ministry is currently working on bylaws related to restoration, protection, excavation and museums.

Dr. Prof. Iman Saca ended her presentation by listing the future goals of the Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage and declared her hope and the Ministry’s hope that the international community continues to support the Palestinian people in their work to preserve and safeguard the archaeological heritage of the lands of Palestine.

Dr. Prof. Iman Saca has been a professor in the US for more than 20 years with extensive teaching and research experience in the fields of archaeology, anthropology and cultural heritage. She has recently returned to her homeland Palestine and is currently the Vice President Designate for Academic Affairs at Bethlehem University.  

The International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East is organized every two years by the scientific community of scholars working on and in the Near East and studying therein archaeology, heritage, environmental and climate issues, material culture from the early prehistoric times until the Islamic period within a multidisciplinary approach. The first ICAANE was held in Rome in 1998.

The 13th ICAANE took Place in Denmark at the University of Copenhagen with three main themes and more than 650 papers presented on work done in different parts of the Near East.

The themes of this conference focus on Archaeology, and Cultural heritage, more specifically:

  1.  Near Eastern Archaeology: field reports, theory and Methodology.
  2. Sustainability: social inequality and social resilience, water and understanding nature, innovation and resources and Urbanism.
  3. Cultural Heritage: inclusion and belonging, sharing history, world cultural heritage, and the issue of handling remains from the Ancient Near East
  4. There was also a session dedicated to Islamic Archaeology