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Archaeologists publish first map of contested sites in Middle East

New online map reveals archaeological activity on Holy Land sites in the West Bank and East Jerusalem

A team of archaeologists from UCLA, USC, Israel and Palestinian territories has developed the first map detailing Israeli archaeological activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem – much of it never publicly disclosed.

The fully searchable online map, which serves as a window into thousands of years worth of archaeological sites in the Holy Lands, has won the 2009 Open Archaeology Prize from American Schools of Oriental Research, the main organization for archaeologists working in the Middle East.

The prize will be announced today at the organization’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

Project leaders Lynn Swartz Dodd of the University of Southern California and Rafi Greenberg of Tel Aviv University will be on hand to receive the award.  The map is hosted on USC's Digital Library website and uses a searchable Google Map portal.

“This is a significant professional recognition of both the value and substance of the resource and the fact that this information is being made widely and freely available through USC’s Digital Library,” said Dodd, a lecturer in religion and curator of the Archaeology Research Center in the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“The significance of making this data public should not be underestimated," said team member Ran Boytner, director for international research at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. "For the first time, both Palestinians and Israelis can dynamically consult this interactive map and view what cultural heritage will fall under the sovereign rule of each side during final peace negotiations.”
The USC Web site is part of a larger effort to devise a framework for the disposition of the region’s archaeological treasures in the event of a two-state peace agreement.

Dodd and Boytner invited Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists in 2005 to engage in a dialogue about archaeology. This led to a research effort to identify Israeli archaeological activity since 1967, when Israel took over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The public can access the West Bank and East Jerusalem Archaeology Database at (users should have Google Earth installed to enjoy the full power of the database).

Built over several years through hundreds of hours of research, bolstered by freedom of information requests and, when necessary, a lawsuit in Israeli courts, the Web site provides interactive satellite maps showing locations of about 7,000 archaeological sites in the region, including:

• Shiloh, where the Bible locates the original tabernacle of the Hebrews
• Battir (Khirbet al Yahudiya), where the Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion
• the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea scrolls (the earliest copies of the Bible) were found
• Jericho
• many sites within Jerusalem.

Greenberg, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Tel Aviv University, and Adi Keinan, formerly of Tel Aviv University and now a doctoral student at University College London, did the research for the Web maps now available at USC.

Dodd described the process as seeking to “fill a void” in preparation for future peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“That void was intelligent, prepared conversation and data resources that could inform negotiation over cultural heritage and archaeology.

“The respective authorities and archaeological communities did not endorse the research officially, they were aware of it, and they did not intervene to stop it,” Dodd said.

The searchable map helps define the scope of a future agreement.

“We’ve started a database that lets you know what to negotiate for,” Dodd said. “Each of us is committed to continuing our work so that all information about Israeli archaeological activity in the West Bank and Gaza becomes publicly accessible.”

“We’re very proud of this achievement,” Boytner said.

In the event of any proposal for a future border, he added, “you can draw a line on a map and know exactly where each site will fall.”

Matt Gainer, director of USC Digital Library, said: "The better our understanding of the histories represented by the data, the more likely it will be that there will be informed dialog about the region. We are proud to have played a role in this larger discourse."

For scholars and laypersons, the database has other practical uses.

Researchers soon will be able to download the entire file for use in diverse ways. For example, the overlay of ancient sites on contemporary satellite photographs allows instant comparison of settlement patterns, which in turn may provide information on ancient stream flows and other important features.

Government agencies could consult the database before planning roads or other public works projects. Tourists and history buffs could research locations of specific sites, such as early Christian churches.

Dodd is working with the USC Digital Library to augment the database with educational resources for K-12 and college.

The map and database were made possible with funding from USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, the United States Institute for Peace, UCLA, the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, the S. Daniel Abraham Centers for Middle East Peace & Economic Cooperation (Washington, D.C.) and for International and Regional Studies (Tel Aviv), the USC Provost’s Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences Initiative, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and several private donors, including Mary Louise Remy; Howard and Roberta Ahmanson; Jack and Peggy Bryant; Wally and Suzy Marks; Nancy Berman and Alan Bloch; and Luis Lainer.

For information on the American Schools of Oriental Research Open Archaeology Prize, visit

For information on the publication of this database in print and CD formats, visit

Dodd and Boytner discussed their project in 2008 in this video:
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