Developing and Implementing a Web-based National Geographic Information System

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The second component of the initiative is the development and implementation of a Web-based national geographic information system (GIS) for the SBAH: the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities (MEGA)-Iraq. The system will be accessible to the SBAH's regional offices, as well as international scholars. It will be:

  • in Arabic and English;
  • easy to use and not requiring extensive training of personnel;
  • built with technical tools that are non-proprietary so that it can be easily maintained and readily customized to accommodate changes in practices in the future;
  • built with software that is low-cost, making upgrades and maintenance affordable; and
  • compatible with systems used by other national, regional, and local authorities, particularly those dealing with development and land ownership, thereby allowing for the sharing of data.

These development criteria were selected to help ensure that MEGA-Iraq will be sustainable. The GIS will be used by the SBAH as a planning and decision-making tool to address needs related to the legal protection of sites, site management, infrastructure and development control, World Heritage requirements, and development of national and regional research strategies. It will allow for recording the timing and extent of looting of sites in order to provide for targeted protection measures. After stability returns to Iraq, the GIS will also permit the SBAH to assess the potential impact on archaeological sites of planned development—such as roadways, pipelines, reservoirs, and the construction of buildings—and to prevent damage before development projects are implemented.

Work in progress

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The GCI and WMF began work on the national GIS for the SBAH in 2004. Since then, the GCI and WMF have held a number of meetings with SBAH leadership and other personnel to gather information on their needs for the system. In tandem with development of the GIS, the initiative developed a methodology for the rapid recording of sites and assessment of their significance, condition, and management situation. The rapid assessment methodology was developed to provide data for the GIS and to assess archaeological and architectural site protection and conservation needs and priorities.

Unfortunately, the ongoing conflict in Iraq impeded the successful completion of the system. At the same time, it was evident that Jordan had a similar need and requirements for such a system. The Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA) was also a strong supporting partner of the GCI-WMF Iraq Initiative. It was decided, therefore, to continue working on such a system, implementing it first in Jordan and developing it in such a way so as to make it adaptable and configurable for Iraq and other Arabic-speaking countries. Further information on the development of MEGA-Jordan is available on that project's Web page.

The GCI and WMF are now working with the DoA on developing MEGA-Jordan and a prototype will be installed in the Amman and Irbid governorates in Jordan in the first half of 2009. Upon completion of the pilot implementation and testing effort, the final MEGA-Jordan system will be deployed and configured for use in DoA offices throughout Jordan in fall 2009. Once MEGA-Jordan is fully deployed, adaptation of MEGA-Iraq will be completed as soon as possible for deployment in Iraq.

Last updated: September 2008