Visualizing the impact of dams on heritage in the Near East.


Dams of the Near East between development and depauperation

Dams represent a controversial and contested tool for economic development. It is widely agreed that these massive hydraulic structures provide different types of benefits, including the production of electricity, increased farmlands and land value as well as development for fishery and water-related industry. In addition to their maintenance costs, the construction and up-filling of dams entails however the dislocation of thousands of people, potential political international issues when built on rivers flowing through different countries, the permanent degradation of soil fertility and the widespread destruction of cultural and natural heritage.
Despite the growing concerns on short, medium and long-term benefit/cost of dams, today Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries are witnessing an ever-growing number of large dam projects. Activities and projects aiming at documenting and protecting the cultural heritage are generally missing or only partially included within dams projects masterplans.
There is an urgent need for strategies for documenting and protecting archaeological sites and monuments in the planning of hydraulic infrastructures at international, national and local levels as well as outlining a general working protocol. Funders of development works, foremost the World Bank, should review their current policies, which offer insufficient protection to cultural heritage.

The OrientDams Project

This project aims at providing a detailed visual assessment on the impact of dams on archaeological sites in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA). Four case studies of different magnitudes (Turkey, the Euphrates river, the two Aswan dams and the planned Makhul dam) have been considered in order to identify different issues related to the construction of dams.
Almost 2500 flooded archaeological sites and approximately 1300 km of ancient rivers submerged by the dams reservoirs have been mapped from the selected study cases across the MENA area. In fact, it must be stressed that these numbers are incomplete as large parts of the reservoir areas have not been systematically investigated. The methodology applied integrates archaeological and geo-spatial open-access datasets, organized in a WebGIS in order to foster data sharing and research replicability.
OrientDams addresses the issue of the impact of dams on the cultural heritage in the MENA, through a multi-scalar assessment of damage, providing quantitative and multi-temporal data on the archaeological sites submerged or damaged by both hydraulic infrastructures and the resulting water reservoirs.

The Website

The current website – actually a work in progress – presents in a scientific fashion the elaborations and studies carried out for characterizing the impact on near eastern landscapes represented by the construction of dams, supplying the scholarly community with an elaborate tool of unprecedented precision. The website, branching from the OrientGIS project, will continue to be updated.




We at OrientDams believe in open access and sharing of scientific information: this website is about calling for a cooperation among scholars to explore and visualize our models on a historical landscape for which we do possess significant archaeological data. We do believe in networked science, in contrasting our differing views on the past with the aim of refining our understanding of social and economic processes. Engagement means believing in the value of digital outputs, of sharing ideas, of open discussions: for this reason, we are looking forward to cooperating with all scholars willing to confer – with due credit – their own materials and elaborations on landscapes affected by the creation of dams in the Near East to this website so that it becomes an open forum and a place in which experimenting different methodological approaches for assessing the impact of dams on the natural and cultural heritage.

OrientGIS map.


The OrientDams Project funded as a Unit of the HeAT project benefiting of a JPI CH Heritage Plus 2015-2018 grant, with Nicolò Marchetti of the Alma Mater Studiorum-University of Bologna as the Unit scientific responsible. The materials presented in this research website can be freely used respecting their licencing agreement (all our original elaborations are the copyleft of the OrientDams Project).

Satellite imagery and cartographic materials have been downloaded, georeferenced and then elaborated or modified by the team of the DICAM Department in Bologna, led by Gabriele Bitelli with Francesca Franci. Simone Mühl, Serena Nicolini and Federico Zaina have been invaluable in designing the GIS shapefiles for the distribution of sites and in handling survey data from Iraq, Egypt and Turkey respectively.

We gratefully acknowledge the CRANE 2.0 project for having provided the server on which our webGIS is running. Fairly soon, the materials presented in the website will be made individually available respecting their licensing agreement. All individual and corporate credits will be listed under each image, with – where of interest – some technical explanations attached too. News about the updates for metadata and additional functions will be listed in the Feeds section of the website.

This website has been conceived by Nicolò Marchetti (Scientific Editor), with Silvano Bertossa (Web Engineer) setting up the PostgreSQL and GeoServer including the current Leaflet tool for the WebGIS, Valentina Orrù Web designer and Webmaster, Francesca Franci and Federico Zaina editing and managing the OrientDams WebGIS.


B i b l i o g r a p h y.

N. Marchetti – A. Curci – M.C. Gatto – S. Nicolini – S. Muhl – F. Zaina 2019 A Multiscalar Approach for Assessing the Impact of Dams on the Cultural Heritage in the Middle East and Northern Africa, Journal of Cultural Heritage 37, 17-28.

N. Marchetti – G. Bitelli – F. Franci – F. Zaina 2020 Archaeology and Dams in Southeastern Turkey: Post-Flooding Damage Assessment and Safeguarding Strategies on Cultural Heritage, Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 33, 29-54.

N. Marchetti – F. Zaina 2018 Cultural Heritage. Dams and Archaeology in South-eastern Turkey. In M. Kinzel – M.B. Thuesen – I. Thuesen (eds.), Culture and Conflict. Understanding Threats to Heritage, Copenhagen, Orbis, 28-35.