Community engagement at Barkal

During this field season, we launched a community engagement program as part of the conservation project for the ancient temples at Jebel Barkal. Co-directed by Tohamy Abulgasim Khalifa (University of Khartoum) and Rebecca Bradshaw (United Arab Emirates University), the aims of this part of the project are to:

  • Create and delivering engagement strategies to foster robust connections between the local community, the archaeological site, and the archaeological project teams;
  • Direct education and awareness training that incorporates local residents, Sudanese government members and police in order to increase capacity for Jebel Barkal’s successful and sustainable preservation;
  • Organize on-site meetings between the various foreign missions, the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums in Sudan (NCAM), and local residents and stakeholders to develop and codify an integrated vision for site preservation, management, and tourism development;
  • Work with local and regional leaders to examine and address site access, visitor services, and custodial issues (e.g. trash dumping onsite);
  • With NCAM and local stakeholders, review issues around difficulties of establishing and enforcing a site buffer zone and develop a plan to resolve these;
  • Lead community-engaged efforts to develop site interpretation products, such as onsite signage and a walking tour.

This sounds like a lot, right?! It is, especially in a sprawling and multicultural place like Karima!

Yet our aims this season were modest: to meet people, introduce ourselves to them, talk, have tea, go to cultural events, and thereby begin to understand community diversity and dynamics.

Sunday church service with the Nuba community in Karima. Photo: Rebecca Bradshaw

This approach is based on the anthropological premise that understanding a place and its people is key to creating truly collaborative and sustainable projects. Community residents also need to get to know and trust us, too: this is not just one-way!

So, who did we talk to?

Naturally there are some obvious stakeholders with whom we wanted to discuss our program—such as people who work on the excavations (“workmen”), local heritage organizations, landowners, UNESCO representatives etc.—so we made appointments to do so.

In particular, this season we talked at length with members of a village called Lower Barkal (Barkal Tahet), whose land is partially covered by the site, and who have specific concerns they have long been wanting to discuss with archaeologists.

Team members discussing land concerns with residents of Lower Barkal. Photo: Tohamy Abulgasim Khalifa

Schools are also key institutions with whom we need to work. To this end, we led a group of 200 school children (an entire school!) around the site, taking them to the active excavations, the Temple of Amun, the visitor’s centre, and the museum.

Tohamy introduces one group (of many!) school children to the site. Photo: Rebecca Bradshaw

Despite being the school nearest the site, they had never been taken on a tour before, and were very excited! They were particularly fascinated by the drone used by the excavation team as you can see from the picture below!

Rebecca, Anwar and an *amazed* group of school children, all eyes up on the drone! Photo: Sami Elamin

The success of this pilot school visit was helped immeasurably by the team’s student trainees, Anwar, Meheira, Rabea, Sarah, Mohamed, and Tarteel, who led the kids around beautifully. (Pictured here, after an exhausting day!)

Anwar, Meheira, Rabi’a, Sarah, Mohamed, Tarteel, Tohamy, and Rebecca

However, we also made concerted efforts to talk with and listen to people outside archaeology’s obvious stakeholders – such as the local tea ladies (sitt al chai), footballers, tailors, laborers, traders, and anyone we met, really! From these rich discussions we learned about perceptions of the site and of archaeologists, the history of archaeology-community relations, perceived economic impacts of the site (or lack thereof) and much more. But more importantly, we learned about residents’ day-to-day concerns, their lives, and their aspirations.

It’s hard to know at this early stage exactly what a ‘successful’ collaborative community engagement project looks like in this specific context. We nevertheless feel that it’s been a positive start, one upon which we can build in future.

This post was written by Rebecca and Tohamy. Rebecca also just had a piece come out in The National News of the United Arab Emirates on UNESCO and local heritage:

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