Cyprus and Israel to cooperate in forming database for archaeology

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Cyprus and Israel will cooperate to form a bank that will house the enormous amount of data which results from the numerous excavations that are conducted in both countries.

In an interview with the CNΑ, Dr. Gideon Avni, Head of the Archaeological Division of the Israel Antiquities Authority and David Gabai, IT Manager of the Antiquities Authority who were in Cyprus last month, outlined their vision of a database to hold information about antiquities in both Cyprus and Israel that will enable scholars, academics to deepen their understanding about each other’s culture.

The two were visiting the Cyprus Institute to be informed on the techniques and methods used by the scientists of The Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Center (STARC) of the Institute.

Speaking during a recent visit to Cyprus, Dr. Gideon Avni said the idea is establish professional connections between Israel Antiquities Authority, which is the government organization in charge of all aspects of archaeology in Israel with that of Cyprus.

He said that there have been professional contacts between the two countries’ archaeologists but the trigger for their visit was the cultural agreement that was signed between Cyprus and Israel in which a certain provision refers to cooperation in archaeology. The agreement was signed during the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Cyprus.

“The expected outcome is to create a list of projects in which Israeli archaeologists and Cyprus archaeologists from the Cyprus Institute and the Antiquities Department will be collaborating. This is the reason for our short visit”, said Avni.

Avni described their visit to the Cyprus Institute as “very fruitful”. “We were very much impressed from the high level of research and the numerous projects that are being conducted there,'' he noted.

Particularly, he said, “relevant to our work in Israel were the documentation methodologies of archaeological sites and artifacts, and we had the opportunity to share information with our colleagues in Cyprus”.

In the last meeting with the CY staff we discussed several venues for future cooperation between our organizations, in conjunction with the Cyprus Department of Antiquities. Last week we hosted in Israel the Cyprus DOA director, Dr. Maria Hadjicosti, and we discussed together additional potential fields of cooperation, he said.

“I believe that these visits opened the road for a much closer bilateral contacts between archaeologists and Archaeological Institutions in both countries”, he added.

Asked what kind of projects will be introduced, Avni said the idea is to put together the vast database which both countries have due to their large number of antiquities.

“Both countries, have one of the richest concentration and importance of archaeological sites anywhere, with influences that were passing through the Eastern Mediterranean, there is an enormous amount of database that is compatible. We are looking to put together what we have in Israel, what you have in Cyprus in a way that this database will be put into the knowledge of scholars, and one of the aims is to make this database accessible for all departments. And here the CI has the infrastructure that relates to this”, he said.

Another aspect, he added, is underwater archaeology which both countries are doing in the eastern Mediterranean.

Basically we are now focusing on technology and archaeological databases. A very specific project can be created out of this. For example, Byzantine churches, pottery, much more specific fields, which we have experts in Israel and you have academic experts here, so we can put them together to increase connections”, said Avni.

He remarked that “it is a lot of work, so we are making the framework of this. We are looking at the next 10-15 years”.

On his part, David Gabai, IT Manager of the Israeli Antiquities said that he is looking to see what is being done in Cyprus as far as technology is concerned, “as far as using technology for archaeology”. He said that in Israel, “we have in our organization information systems that document all data about archaeology in Israel, we are the largest organization mandated by law to document and to collect the data for antiquities and archaeological sites in Israel”.

Gabai said “we came to Cyprus to see what type of technologies are used to aid archaeologists to do the research, collecting the data, and to find out how we can use this technology, how we can contribute to Cyprus’ databases and making databases accessible to each other”.

According to Gabai, there are ways to collaborate. “This is not just technology. We have to see how we will incorporate in our everyday process”.

In Israel, he said, they do about 300 excavations a year and ''we need to have a database that will have all this data.''

“We don't just do rescue excavation because of development; we need to document and make the documentation as easy and as fast as possible. So we have a lot of data,'' he added.

Asked if technology helps during the actual excavation process, Gabai replied that “people all over the world are trying to use more and more technology into the excavations and into the data that is being taken from the excavations, helping during the excavations itself and in the research afterwards. The digitalization of the artifacts, high level scanning and imaging, using high performance scanners, this is something that is being done”.

After the excavation, he added, what is needed is computerized methods to document what is being found, how to map what the archaeologist is doing and make it a common language for all archaeologists in Israel or for doing research.

Avni said “we are dealing with an enormous amount of data. Millions of artifacts and thousands of sites and only the pictures that we have in our archives are tens of millions of pieces. Nobody can know what exists unless they spend half their lives searching for it. There is a huge amount of information that needs to be pieced together, and this is our initiative with the Cyprus Institute and other places in Europe, how to make this material accessible”.

Israel, he said, is one of the best test cases for the subject because the volume of the work is very exciting. On top of the 300 excavations we have yearly, which go up annually, there are also around 50 expeditions a year from Europe and the US.

Imagine how much data is being collected, said Gabai.