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Long-Isolated Libya Plans New Archaeology Drive

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« on: November 18, 2008, 08:45:22 am »

                                    Long-isolated Libya plans new archaeology drive

Tue 18 Nov 2008
By Tom Pfeiffer
(Reuters) -

Libya plans to invite the world's top archaeologists to unearth its ancient past as it tries to lure more tourists after decades in isolation, the head of the government's archaeology department said.

With a central role in early human migration, the desert country on the Mediterranean is home to a multitude of ancient and prehistoric sites. Many are thought to remain undiscovered.

But years of western sanctions tarnished Libya's image and only a few hundred thousand people visit the north African country each year, compared to over 8 million for neighbouring Egypt.

"We will open our arms to the best scientists from Japan to the United States. We will not exclude one major institution, be it Oxford, Cambridge, the Sorbonne or Rome," said Giuma Anag, chairman of the government's archaeology department.

In a recent interview, he described discoveries to date as only the tip of the iceberg.

The archaeology campaign is backed by leader Muammar Gaddafi's most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, who recently approved setting up of a society for safeguarding archaeology that would coordinate the work of foreign and local researchers.

"It is a huge acceleration," Anag told Reuters. "We never had this kind of support before."

Archaeology took a back seat after Gaddafi's 1969 Islamic Socialist revolution although work never entirely stopped. Some foreign archaeologists continued work -- making significant finds -- even during the low point of relations with the West.

Libya, three times the size of France, was inhabited by humans over 60,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens began moving north from east Africa before colonizing Europe.

In ancient times, coastal settlements were established by great civilisations from the Phonecians to the Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians and Ottomans.

Archaeological work began in earnest in the 1930s when Italian fascist colonialists hoped to demonstrate the Roman presence and prove Italy's historical dominance of the Mediterranean. That work also led to the discovery of oil.
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« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2008, 08:46:50 am »

150,000 YEARS

With a low population and dry climate, Libya's secrets are well preserved. Historians say the vast desert was once savannah that supported small communities of which little is known.

"We are discovering more about one of the most interesting aspects of human pre-history -- when and how Homo Sapiens left Africa," said Elena Garcea of Cassino University in Italy.

With new technology for dating objects, her team has found evidence of human habitation in Libya up to 150,000 years ago and is unearthing details of little-known Early-Middle Stone Age societies.

Key discoveries were made in recent years by French researcher Andre Laronde at the ancient Greek port of Apollonia in Cyrenaica, birthplace of the philosopher and mathematician Erastosthenes. In the south, an Italian team has studied rock art to shed light on prehistoric hunter-gatherer communities.

A Sicilian group is working on the wreck of a 17th century Venetian warship, the Tigre, scuppered by its captain after a storm drove it south and the Libyan Karamanli fleet gave chase.

The team's head, Sebastiano Tusa, says the ship is yielding useful information on the period when Venice's power waned and Turkish forces threatened its eastern Mediterranean possessions.

But Tusa's dream is to find a land settlement on the Libyan coast that proves there was a sea route via North Africa for ships travelling between the Western and Eastern Mediterranean in the second millennium B.C.

"I'm sure there will be something proving a connection between Crete and the Aegean and Cyrenaica," he said.

Libya's government says that as more sites are opened up, it wants to avoid the mass tourism of Egypt and Tunisia and its emphasis on history will help draw a smaller number of discerning travellers.

"We will discourage mass tourism which would ... be a disgrace towards this fantastically rich and diverse cultural heritage," said Anag.
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