Waking Sleeping Giants: Archaeology and Local Benefit in Wadi Faynan, Jordan

There exists an astounding hidden economic potential within the archaeological sites of the Wadi Faynan region in Jordan. The following post written by Dr. Paul Burtenshaw imparts his work and insight into the potential for preservation and development in this area. Currently a Research Fellow at the Centre of British Research in the Levant, Amman, Jordan, Paul completed his PhD looking at the economic value of archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. This research explored conceptual approaches to archaeology as an economic asset, the role it plays in motivating preservation and how it is measured and managed. Paul has completed economic impact assessments of archaeology in Scotland and Jordan, is the group leader of the Archaeology and Development Research Network and has worked for several years in the heritage, and wider, tourism industry.

‘[It is] one thing to discover [archaeological sites] and then leave them to sleep, it is another to make tourists come and make money for the community’ – Wadi Faynan resident

More than 25 years of research in Wadi Faynan – a spectacular landscape in southern Jordan between the Edom Mountains and the Israeli border – has uncovered some of the most significant archaeology of the Middle East.  However as one member of the local community there described to me, these giants of archaeology remain asleep; a resource with great potential to benefit their lives, but one which currently rests unused.


Wadi Faynan. (Photo credit: P. Burtenshaw)

Jordan is famous for its ancient sites, none more so than Petra, hailed as one of the ‘New 7 Wonders’ of the world.  However tourism in Jordan can often focus on only the most iconic sites, leaving vast archaeological riches unheard of, and greatly limiting the communities that may benefit from the industry. As the projects with which SPI is involved demonstrate, a great variety of archaeology has the potential to bring economic benefits to communities though tourism, and in doing so can help ensure the long-term survival of the archaeology itself.  While some sites grab tourists’ attention with visually spectacular monuments, the appeal of many places lies in the stories they tell, about the people of the past and of their role in shaping the world we inhabit in the present. In Wadi Faynan, it is the strength of these stories which gives the archaeological remains the potential to be of service to local people today.

Wadi Faynan can lay claim to being one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, and indeed there is evidence of some of the very first settlements humans ever created. Starting over 11,000 years ago, the Neolithic was one of the most important shifts in human history when the innovations of permanent settlements, agriculture, domestication and communal religion mutually informed each other. Remains at the site of ‘Wadi Faynan 16’ date from the very beginning of this process and include a unique, spectacular ‘amphitheatre’, purpose built for gatherings that formed the basis of the development of some of the world’s first communities. The abundance of Neolithic sites in the area means visitors can follow the increasing complexity of these communities, tracing how their social experiments gave us the foundation for the lives we know today.


Remains of the ancient ‘amphitheatre’ at Wadi Faynan 16. (Photo credit: The Wadi Faynan Project)

The area also played host to another revolution in human society – a technological one. Wadi Faynan is the best preserved landscape of ancient mining and metallurgy in the world. Metal dominates our modern lives and its exploitation began in this region with copper. The raw material was first taken from the earth here as early as the 5th millennium BC and the landscape is littered with hundreds of mines from this and later periods. By the Iron Age (1200-500BC), a time period associated with Old Testament biblical sources, the mining and smelting of copper had reached industrial scales and hundreds of furnaces would have illuminated the ancient night sky. Visitors today can witness the sheer energy of this production in the form of deep mines, giant mountains of processed materials, and fortresses built to protect the valuable commodity.  But the production left another, human, and more immediate legacy: Wadi Faynan has been identified as biblical Pinon/Phaino, where Christian slaves were sent to their deaths to serve the Roman Empire’s appetite for copper. It subsequently became a place of pilgrimage, attested to by the remains of three churches built on the Roman city and an extensive cemetery which mixes the bones of travellers with those they came to honour.

The preservation of the varied archaeology of Wadi Faynan owes much to the lack of modern mining in the area. However the prospect of mining remains a possibility and could have a significant impact on the area’s potential as a heritage and ecotourism destination, as well as affecting the lifestyle of the community, and the archaeology itself. Many sites suffer from casual, but persistent, looting. Wadi Faynan belongs to one of the most economically poor areas in Jordan and from the community’s perspective the jobs mining may offer are certainly welcome. However, through tourism the archaeology itself may offer a resource than can be ‘mined’ more sustainably and over the long-term. The survival of the archaeology depends on it being wakened from its slumber to become an economic and social asset for local people.

Waking sleeping giants must be done with care.  The small numbers of tourists to the area currently walk and relax in the environment, unaware of the dynamic layers of history around them.  Due to the spectacular but fragile environment, the area cannot host large numbers of tourists – economic benefits will come from encouraging longer stays and increased spending on local guides, accommodation, transport and souvenirs. My research in the area has shown that different communities currently benefit very differently from existing tourism, and so any use of the archaeology will have to be carefully designed to ensure that benefits are not isolated to the few.  Many of the tourists I interviewed in the region are intrigued by the archaeology, however they insist on good presentation and good ‘stories’ if they are to visit the sites.  If they can be persuaded to come and stay, there is good evidence that the archaeology will benefit – nearly 70% of local people said that the value they place on the archaeology lay in the economic benefits it could bring them, suggesting that realising its potential through tourism provides a strong incentive for preservation.

The stories, however, are not just told to attract tourists, but to awaken the sites for local residents as well. The knowledge created by archaeologists is currently almost invisible to the local communities and for many people the ruins around them are empty of any meaning.  Over 40% of residents saw value in the archaeological sites as sources of knowledge, but the vast majority of them have not been able to access that knowledge. Having the stories of the past embedded in local people offers another path to the preservation of sites – as one community leader remarked to me, ‘if you know the story you will recognise and respect’.

Over the next few months, a project supported by the Centre of British Research in the Levant, will begin to wake the sleeping giants of Wadi Faynan by translating the vast library of academic knowledge into headlines and stories that will connect with tourists and local people. Through events, posters and talks the project will spread the stories amongst local people and schoolchildren, creating new connections to the sites. Working with local hotels, community leaders and guides, these stories will promote the area and give local guides the capacity to bring the sites to life for visitors. Ultimately the project will provide the ‘fuel’ for local tourism based on the archaeology, making it a resource to sustain the community and the sites themselves.


Spotlight: The SPI Team

SPI Team Photo

In our second post in a series introducing you to the SPI Team, we’re asking our intern Yasmin Hamed how she developed an interest in cultural heritage preservation, what she has done so far as a member of our ranks and what’s next on the agenda.

Were you always interested in archaeology and cultural heritage?

“Definitely! I love finding out about the origins of things and archaeology always seemed like the obvious solution for someone interested in that. I’ve always wanted to know ‘the story’ of how we got to where we are now, so when it came to apply for a university course there was never any doubt as to what I wanted to study. I did my undergraduate degree in Trinity College, Dublin majoring in Ancient History and Archaeology. I stayed on an extra year and completed my masters in Classics and Archaeology and loved every minute of it!”

“In the past few years in particular since I’ve been studying archaeology and cultural heritage I’ve been drawn towards the relationships we have now with our past, how we use this link, and even more significantly at times how we misuse it.”

How did you first get involved with SPI?

“Well like I’ve said I’ve always been interested in archaeology, but it was only when I was working as a volunteer excavator on a site in the south of France that my really interest area came to the forefront that eventually led me to SPI. Some of the archaeologists at our site had realised that some zones were being looted during the night. After speaking to some of my classmates, I was really surprised at how many of them had excavated at sites during the summer months and witnessed similar examples of sites being looted, often by locals. It really struck me and from that point on I tried to focus my research in university on how cultural heritage is misused and abused, particularly by the nation from which it derives.”

“Last summer, coming to the end of my masters I was taking part in a postgraduate Latin epigraphy course at the British School of Rome when I met Rebekah Junkermeier, SPI’s Program and Development Associate at the time. After a long walk back from the Vatican one day we realised we had some really similar research interests and she told me about SPI’s work. I loved that their mission was linked to the personal side of archaeological preservation. I had studied examples and theories related to preservation, but found it always steeped in the formality of academia. I was really impressed with how SPI managed to promote and link a cultural heritage site with the well-being of people today. Having kept in contact with her after we left the eternal city, I become more and more interested in what SPI did so decided to apply for an internship with them. Six months later, here I am!”

What have you been working on so far as an intern with SPI?

“I think I’m pretty lucky I’ve been involved in quite a wide range of things with SPI so far. I’ve been redeveloping the website, working on SPI’s social media outlets, creating blog posts and newsletters and most recently on our People Not Stones 2013 crowd funding campaign.”

Your favourite SPI moment to date?

“Without a doubt the crowd funding campaign. I had never been involved in any crowd-funding before and to be honest only had a very brief knowledge of what it was! But I liked this in a way, I knew that I was going to be challenged. I loved having a deadline and a goal and working as hard as possible to get our word out there and our voices heard. Getting such positive feedback from the overwhelming number of contributors, the support from other organisations and the various press the campaign got really made it feel like people were listening. The best moment by far was when we found out that the campaign was featured on the Team Indiegogo Blog: we had managed to impress people who see thousands of campaigns on a daily basis.”

What are your plans for the future?

“Who knows! I know I want to continue working within the cultural heritage sphere, specifically with regard to the protection of antiquities. Earning my PhD was always a goal of mine too, regardless whether I continue down an academic route or not. As we speak I’m attending the ARCA Postgraduate Certificate Programme in Italy as a student-intern and learning about crimes against art and antiquities. After that, I’ll see where my interests take me!”

Thank You from SPI

Following the success of our recent People Not Stones 2013 crowd funding campaign, we would like to thank the following generous contributors. With your support, work is now under way to save the rich cultural heritage and empower the local communities of Bandurria and Chotuna-Chornancap, Peru.


Gerald Luterman

Meg Lambert

Daniel Sandweiss

Leslie Urdang

Jeffrey Junkermeier

Molly Stern

Michelle Young

Meagan Baco

Carla Silva

Teresa Lintner

Ari Caramanica

Chelsea Duran

Tamara Junkermeier

Bridget Siegel

Robert Mark

Nicola Savageau

Lace Thornberg

Julia Dye

Ana Escobedo

Nathaniel Van Valkenburg

Dougald O’Reilly

Christina Conlee

Greta Isac

Ulrike Green

Diane Englander

Jerry Blackwill

Alison Brower

Jonit Bookheim

Stephen Black

Emily Jackman

Taylor Krauss

Ruth Lewis

Rebekah Junkermeier

Hamish Berry

Cynthia Frederick

Dawn Kikel

Jane Stone

Gregory Urban

George R. Newall

Daniel Julien

Geoffrey Cunnar

Maria Bruno

Michelle Miller

Risa Goldstein

William Glaser

Peter M. Hosinski

Dana Delany

John Crary

Michael Dreibelbis

Brigitte Vosse

Thomas King

Astrid Hasse

Tanya Lervik

Jonathan Dubois

Lucas Kellett

Abby Lublin

Cliff Laughlin

Lawrence Pratt

Felice V. Hubbard

Jack Ho

Eric Schoenberg

Johanna Vanden Hoek

Robin Urdang

Max Meyer

Ralph Drybrough

Kamsheed Siyar

Peter Fagan

Peter Gallagher

Casey Hackney

Deborah Blom

Dany Santos

Willemina Wendrich

Nadia Papponi

Spotlight: The SPI Team


In the first of a series of posts, we are introducing the people who make up our organization and our team. Today we’re speaking to Solsiré Cusicanqui, archaeologist and researcher for Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú involved with the SPI project site of San Jose de Moro, Peru.

You obviously have a keen interest in archaeology! Were you always interested in cultural heritage?

“Living in a country like Peru, with such rich cultural heritage, I grew up surrounded by archaeological sites and a strong cultural tradition. But it was through my father’s job that I was fortunate to travel around my country and learn about the rich culture we had, but also the poverty that existed especially in the most remote towns.”

“In Peru we have clear examples of how the appreciation of this heritage can become a source of income and an important identity builder. Starting with important archaeological discoveries, followed by an investment aimed at conservation, preservation and exhibition of them there has been a significant increase in tourism that promotes massive job creation, to name just one aspect, as it is in the case of cities in Lambayeque, Trujillo, and Cusco.”

Where have you trained and how has your career developed until now?

“I got a B.A. in Archaeology at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) where I met Dr. Castillo who was my professor and now boss. I did diverse specializations in my career working on different projects in Peru. I am currently a researcher at PUCP as part of the San José de Moro Archaeological Program, and in charge of the Social Responsibility Project. I have also been working for the SPI organization for the last 3 years.”

How, and most importantly, why did you first get involved with SPI?

“Around three years ago, while working in PASJM, I met the CEO of SPI Larry Coben. We were the first project in Peru to work with SPI and the results were pretty good, so he asked me to join the team. Obviously, I agreed as I believed from the start in this new paradigm.”

What has been your favorite moment working for SPI so far?

“It is hard to think of a single good moment, because my work for SPI has too many. Generally, I like get totally involved in the projects, meet the local people and understand their needs and strengths. It is always great to see these projects begin and grow, watch how the excitement of people gets bigger, turning them into entrepreneurs and learning more about their traditions, which strengthens their identity and turns them into the leading advocates of heritage around them and their heritage.”

“The ability to improve the quality of life of people of my country is the best reward I can get from this job.”

Last but not least, what are your plans for the future?

“I would like to continue training myself in Cultural Management, combining the two things I love the most: archaeology and cultural heritage. I believe that in countries like mine, where more people increasingly value their heritage, we need different development proposals, both economic and social and cultural. I think the SPI paradigm should expand throughout Latin America, and I would like to be part of this process.”

Spotlight: Mata Traders


Upholding similar values to SPI, Mata Traders is an organisation dedicated to fair trade and social and economic development that has recently made a generous donation to our People Not Stones 2013 crowd funding campaign. We at SPI have also been honoured to be named Mata Trader’s ‘Charity of the Month’ in January 2013

Mata Trader’s goal is to make fair trade prominent in the fashion industry. This innovative organisation sells cool clothes and accessories providing more opportunities for women in developing countries to empower themselves and their communities. In their own words;

‘‘Fashion to us is about self-expression and being able to be yourself.  That’s true for how clothing and jewellery look and feel, of course, but also for how they should be able to reflect your beliefs and ethics through your purchase of fashion.  We want to give women that option.  Our philosophy is that women shouldn’t have to make trade-offs between style and ethics.’’


The origins of this innovative organisation are found among three best friends who after a round-the-world trip which included four months in India, fell in love with the colors and textiles there. One of the three eventually returned; Maureen. After realising the onus on fair trade, she sought out fair trade producers to make some clothing, a women’s cooperative that Mata Traders still works with to this day.

Promoting Change

Mata Traders work with four fair trade cooperatives in India and Nepal, which employ hundreds of artisans having being initially found through research and word-of-mouth.

‘’The cooperatives that make our products work in rural and slum communities with women who have little or no education, many can’t read or write.  Because of their work, they can afford to send their children to school and pay for necessities that they couldn’t before.’’

SPI has also been supported more recently by Mata Traders in our current crowd funding campaign. For more information on this fantastic organisation take a look at their website.  If you would like to follow in their footsteps and join in their work to empower communities, please contribute to our People Not Stones 2013 crowd funding campaign as we join Mata Traders in alleviating poverty and transforming lives.

People Not Stones 2013 – Campaign Update


We’re at Day 10 of our People Not Stones 2013 campaign. So far we have raised an impressive $16,500, that is 33% of our overall goal! We have made it this far with the help of 49 generous contributors who have donated towards our campaign.

We’re extremely grateful to all who have viewed our page, donated to our campaign and helped us spread the word about People Not Stones 2013.

We will continue to update you on our campaign’s progress throughout it’s duration so watch this space!

Photo of the Week


Photo of the Week

We know why this guy seems so happy! He’s just as excited as us about SPI’s upcoming project crowd funding campaign which goes live next week! Our campaign will raise money for our two new project sites; Bandurria and Chotuna-Chornancap. All contributions will help alleviate poverty in these two communities and sustainably preserve the stunning cultural heritage that remains there. With less than a week to Valentine’s Day, why not make a contribution to this worthy cause in the name of a loved one? He already has…!