A methodology for documenting preservation issues affecting cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq

LeeAnn Barnes Gordon, Bijan Rouhani, Susan Penacho, and Allison Cuneo


Armed conflict in Syria and Iraq has resulted in a humanitarian crisis that includes the destruction of cultural heritage. The Cultural Heritage Initiatives project is a cooperative agreement between the United States Department of State and the American Schools of Oriental Research to implement cultural property protection in the region. This article discusses the development of the project’s methodology for documenting preservation issues affecting cultural heritage. The methodology was created to better understand the types and patterns of threats and damage, which in turn inform future safeguarding and post-war conservation efforts. The condition assessment process is closely linked to other activities of the project, including the development of a digital inventory and map of heritage sites and the archiving of information about cultural heritage from major news outlets, online media, satellite imagery, and in-country sources. The methodology was initially designed to record the physical condition of a property as well as threats and/or disturbances. A Condition Issues section was developed in order to track the effects of damage and the components of a property that may be affected. Later additions include a section designed to rate the priority for future on-the-ground assessments. Testing, revision, and improvement of the methodology are discussed, and initial results of assessments of the properties within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site of Ancient Aleppo are presented.

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2016 | Montreal | Volume 23