Tell Balata Archaeological Park project
On January 15th the cooperation project of the Faculty of Archaeology with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (Department of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage) and the Ramallah office of UNESCO was officially closed. At the same time the Palestinian Ministry continued its managing task of the Archaeological Park of Tell Balata.
Tell Balata is a famous archaeological site near Nablus. Identified as the historical (and biblical) city of Shechem. Partly well preserved with outstanding architectural remains that have been excavated since 1913. Most of the still visible remains date from the Middle and Late Bronze Age (ca 1600-1200 BC), when it was a thriving city, the heart of a city state. However the condition of the site became threatened by growing urban pressure.
Because of its history the site has strong social and touristic potential that could give some economic spin-off in due course. The Archaeological Park project was used to rehabilitate the site and make it visitor friendly. Work was funded by the Government of the Netherlands. The MoU between Leiden and the Palestinian Ministry to promote cooperation was signed in 2009, and the Park project started in 2010. Mainly two departments of the Faculty of Archaeology were involved: Near East and Heritage Management. Both archaeology and heritage management with community archaeology were key components of the activities, in which students from Leiden and from a local university were trained during the two field seasons, dealing with excavation and community archaeology.
Essential results are the strongly improved relationship of the local community (including children) and other stake-holders with the archaeological site, as well as a growing tourism industry.
Among the physical results is a vistors centre (so-called Interpretation Centre), with a museum room and audience hall, inaugurated in 2013. Furthermore the creation of the visitors trail over the site and a variety of promotional material are essential.
The newly established large digital archive, including many documents from the old German and American excavations, makes it possible for the Ministry to take custody of the site.
Among the last results are five (seven) books, printed, and two short movies. The films were made by an external studio and concern a project presentation clip (4 minutes), and a documentary movie (12 minutes) dealing with the history of archaeological research and its results, including 3D animations, and the Park project.
Two books of the resulting five were planned, but the other three grew out of successful specific activities, such as the ‘Teachers Handbook’. All books will become digitally accessible.
Stories about Tell Balata, bilingual booklet, from the ‘Oral History’-subproject;
Teachers Handbook for archaeological heritage in Palestine, Tell Balata, in English and Arabic versions, from the ‘Education’-subproject;
Tell Balata Archaeological Park, Guidebook, in English and Arabic versions, based on hand-outs at opening ceremonies;
Tell Balata Changing Landscape, in English with an Arabic summary – the academic final publication of the whole project;
Tell Balata Archaeological Park; Management Plan, English language manual for the follow-up of the project.
The closing ceremony paid special attention to these last results. Winter conditions made it necessary to use the visitors Centre as venue, with a capacity of some 60 people, mainly representing the stakeholders, including the local villagers. After the national anthems of Palestine and The Netherlands short speeches were given by the governor of the Nablus district and the Mayor of Nablus. They were followed by the Deputy Head of the Netherlands Representation in Ramallah, the Head of UNESCO’s Ramallah Office and the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, Ms Rula Ma’ayi’a. The films were shown, followed by a book presentation by the editors, Hamdan Taha and Gerrit van der Kooij, co-directors of the project. It all ended by a reception with the famous Nabulsi kunafa-sweets, and a guided tour on the site.