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Department of Archaeology


The projects are intended to advance our knowledge of the archaeology of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and help archaeologists and heritage managers in these regions develop more sustainable approaches to protecting and monitoring endangered heritage

Archaeological sites and monuments around the world are increasingly threatened by human activities and the impacts of climate change. These pressures are especially severe in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where local heritage agencies are often short-staffed and under resourced; where existing sites and monuments registers are often incompletely digitised; and where many sites are not yet documented and large areas remain archaeologically under studied. Alongside the intensity of natural and human threats, these factors combine to make the implementation of planning controls, impact assessments, mitigation measures and long-term monitoring especially challenging.

Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, has awarded the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology two major grants to map endangered archaeological heritage in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. By combining innovative approaches in remote sensing and machine learning with conventional archaeological surveys, records-based research, and comprehensive digitisation of existing archives, the two new projects are intended to advance our knowledge of the archaeology of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and help archaeologists and heritage managers in these regions develop more sustainable approaches to protecting and monitoring endangered heritage. Both projects will train heritage professionals in the regions, and work with them to develop an open access geospatial relational database.

Supported by a three-year grant of £3.3 million, the Mapping Africa’s Endangered Archaeological Sites and Monuments (MAEASaM) project aims to identify and document endangered archaeological heritage sites across Africa, and to make records of these sites freely available. The project will focus initially on mapping the archaeological heritage of almost 7 million km2 across eight countries in Africa: Mali, Senegal, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Identifying and assessing past, present and potential threats to archaeological sites and monuments, it will assist Africa-based partners in developing approaches to enhance their long-term protection.

The Mapping Archaeological Heritage in South Asia (MAHSA) project received a grant of £1.8 million, also running over three years. It works with local stakeholders in Pakistan and India to document the endangered archaeology and cultural heritage of the Indus River Basin and the surrounding areas. Collaborating with colleagues in Pakistan and India to collate and systematise the existing published data on archaeological and cultural heritage sites, it will use historic maps, remote sensing and automated site detection methods to identify and document previously unidentified archaeological and cultural heritage sites, and to monitor threats to them. Dr Cameron Petrie of MAHSA commented, 'We envision that this project will result in the documentation of thousands of archaeological or cultural heritage sites and help implement methods that can be used to monitor threats remotely.'

"We cannot afford to lose our cultural heritage, or to let control of it fall into the hands of those who would skew it for their own narrow interests. Our new partnership with the University of Cambridge will expand the geographies covered by Arcadia-supported site documentation projects.

These two new projects, focusing on South Asian and sub-Saharan African archaeology, will ensure we do not lose some of our most vulnerable and understudied heritage. By making the documentation openly available, they will help local communities to protect sites, and enable anyone, anywhere, to study and appreciate them."

Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, co-founders, Arcadia

Both projects aim to ensure long-term sustainability of mapping, ground surveying and monitoring components through targeted training of in-country collaborators and other heritage stakeholders. All data will be published online with suitable protections in place to prevent unauthorised access and misuse. The collated and analysed data will be used to develop country-specific recommendations for future research priorities and management and mitigation strategies, in consultation with relevant national, regional and international heritage management agencies.

"The generous funding provided by the Arcadia Foundation offers us an exciting opportunity to survey and document large parts of Africa, potentially transforming our knowledge of the continent's deep history. At the same time, it will help our partners in Africa more easily monitor known archaeological sites and monuments and respond far more rapidly than currently to mitigating threats to this heritage posed by human activities and climate change."

Paul Lane, Jennifer Ward Oppenheimer Professor of the Deep History & Archaeology of Africa, and Mandela Magdalene Memorial Fellow, University of Cambridge

About the projects

The MAEASaM and MAHSA projects will be hosted by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge and engage with a wide range of project partners.

MAEASaM is already collaborating with the Department of Archaeology, University of York; the Institute of Archaeology, University College London; the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter; the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Uppsala University, Sweden; IFAN and the University Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal; the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; and the British Institute in Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.

MAHSA is already collaborating with the Catalan Institute of Classical Archaeology in Taragona and Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona; the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; University of Peshawar; University of the Punjab; the Department of AIHC and Archaeology, Banaras Hindu University; the Faculty of Arts, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, MSU Baroda; and the Department of AIHC and Archaeology, Deccan College Pune.

​​​​​​​About Arcadia

Arcadia is a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. It supports charities and scholarly institutions that preserve cultural heritage and the environment. Arcadia also supports projects that promote open access and all of its awards are granted on the condition that any materials produced are made available for free online. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $777 million to projects around the world.

Image information

Aerial image of Great Zimbabwe
Image credit: 
Daniel Lowenbörg/Ezekia Mtetwa, Uppsala University