Israeli, Jordanian archeologists discuss risks to historical sites in Acre workshop

Israeli, Jordanian arche

From risk mapping in Petra to preservation of historic buildings in China, archeologists from around the world have something to discuss this week in Acre. More than 80 international experts from 16 countries gathered on Sunday for Israel Antiquities Authority and UNESCO's second annual World Heritage Workshop on "Disaster Risk Reduction to Cultural Heritage Sites." Abdel Sami Abu Dayyeh of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and Anna Paolini of UNESCO Jordan described the risks to the area, primarily earthquakes and flooding. A fellow geologist in the audience pointed to the similarities between the risks at Masada and at Petra. "Look at what Masada did," he said. "Now Israel, help Petra out - work together." The professionals identified many areas in which they could collaborate. Through case studies, discussions and presentations, archeologists and geologists are working to preserve and protect historical sites and prepare their countries' citizens for natural disasters. Prof. Yossef Hatzor of Ben-Gurion University presented a groundbreaking methodology used around Israel. With computer graphs and mathematical formulas, Hatzor and his colleagues are able to analyze past earthquakes to predict how future ones could harm heritage sites. "Displaced stones of Mamshit, Ovdat and Kalaat Nimrod are especially important to us," he explained. "Stones in the arch will have slid out a little bit from the original structure. The stones are still in the structure however, which allows us to analyze." King Herod's palace in Masada is "essentially blocks waiting to collapse from an earthquake," he said. "Before we start to save the site, we can evaluate the level of damage. We use math to show what the shaking would do, we try to find a solution that would mimic the field using a three-dimensional problem." After the analysis, proper reinforcing elements can be inserted into the stone, Hatzor explained. A lecture by Dr. Avi Shapira, director of the National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness in the National Infrastructures Ministry, workshop participants were able to learn about Israel's methods "In many other countries, there are no earthquake-safe shelters," Shapira said. "We have in-house shelters from shelling, from the war, that also serve as safe houses for earthquakes." "The safest place in the world during an earthquake is in a field," he continued. "But in a 20-story apartment, the house shelter is the next best thing." Shapiro also discussed Israel's newest measure, an alarm system that will sound when it detects an earthquake. Israelis, he said, are more likely than others to ignore an earthquake, and therefore to fail to protect themselves by running to a bomb shelter. It is hoped that the alarm system will help. With the creation of the International Conservation Center in Acre's Old City, Israel hopes to continue to be an international leader in conservation of heritage sites. "The idea is to build up training in three dimensions - academic, professional and public," said Shelley-Anne Peleg, director of the center. "I'd like to see the building to become the center of conservation in Israel, so people can come and study here for a few months or a few years." A joint project with the Antiquities Authority, the center hopes to lead the way for conservation education in the country. "This is where we learn about conservation, in Acre," Peleg said. "I've spent the entire morning at this conference and it's exciting to see how people react to the city itself. For some people, it is their first time in Israel and they are coming to Acre, to this gem of the Galilee."