The Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem and Battir, Palestine
A few kilometres southwest of Jerusalem in Palestine lies the village of Battir. According to the World Monuments Fund, the 4,000-year-old site is landscape is rich ancient terraces, archaeological sites, tombs, and agricultural sites. Battir is most well known for its series of farmed valleys with characteristic stone terraces. According to the article Who Really Built Jerusalem’s Historic Terraces by Nir Hasson, The power of a man-made terrace lies in its simplicity: It is a series of steps, with the earth held back by a wall of stones to enable tilling the mountainside. Some of the valleys and stone terraces are irrigated for market garden production, while others are dry and filled with grapevines and olive trees. The adaptation of a deep valley system for agricultural purposes as a result of a good supply of water.
According to Samia Ayyash and Phil Weiss’s article UNESCO Group Votes to Protest Ancient Palestinian Terraces, “seven springs flow throughout whose waters trickle through ancient Roman channels and pools to irrigate a lush landscape – the livelihood of its people.” This is among the other characteristics that make Battir an brilliant archaeological landscape. According to UNESCO, because Battir lies in such a mountainous region, farming here must be supported with a network of irrigation channels. These supporting irrigation channels are supported by underground sources. The agricultural terraces were the basis for a strong presence of agriculture through the cultivation of olives and vegetables through exploiting this irrigation system. Researchers have found that the area still today has the same use.
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE QUALIFICATIONS
This treasured archaeological site is important to archaeologists for many reason. Two main reasons that this site is important to our cultural heritage and to archaeologists today are the following according to UNESCO:
1. The site of Battir, especially its well known dry-stone architecture, provides what UNESCO describes as an “outstanding” example of the development of human settlements near water sources and the adaptation of the land for agriculture. The fact that the outskirts of this cultural landscapes are inhabited by farmers who continue to work the land shows that this system is very sustainable, is it has lasted thousands of years. The system of irrigated terraces is an outstanding example of technologic development, which constitutes the main parts of this cultural landscape.
2. It is believed that two major reasons this area was settled in the first place was the strategic location and availability of springs. These qualities were so valuable that the people adapted to the arable land and steep landscape. This adaptation to the land makes this site an outstanding example of traditional land use, which archaeologists believe can be representative of many centuries of culture and human interaction with the environment. The agricultural methods (terraces, irrigation) used to create the landscape that is now Battir reflect one of the oldest farming methods known and are an important source for those still living in the communities surrounding the site.
As we can see, this land is an outstanding example of the way past peoples functioned in Battir, Palestine and in Southern Jerusalem by adapting to their environment and the changes around them. Landscapes like this are important to us today because they can teach us about things like livings a more sustainable life in certain climates.
CONFLICT AND DEVELOPMENT
According to UNESCO, when a UNESCO World Heritage site is found to be in any kind of danger, it is added to UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger”. When a site is added to the list, the World Heritage Committee allocates immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property, which either allows some sort of corrective action to take place, or works to protect the site from forseen future harm. Once the site is considered to be “fixed”, or no longer at a high risk, it is removed from the list.
According to Lauren Feldinger, after a wave of suicide bombings in 2002, Israel put out plans for a separation barrier.According to Quincy Katon’s file Cultural Preservations in Areas of Military Conflict: Interpreting the Shortcomings and Success of International Laws, Israel wished to build its separation wall through the Battir village. Many conservationists and advocates say that the route runs through Palestinian farmland and personal property, not around like it should. Therefore, according to UNESCO, the site of Southern Jerusalem, Battir was submitted by Palestine as an emergency submission due to the urgent nature of the conflict threatening the area that would destruct heritage. According to the article Who Really Built Jerusalem’s Historic Terraces by Nir Hasson, Battir became the subject of lengthy legal arguments when the Defense Ministry’s plan to place the West Bank separation barrier through the ancient terraces emerged. The terraces around Ein Karem, the neighborhood of Ramot and other locations were also used as examples arguing against urban development.
As the threat of destruction loomed, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee ruled that the “landscape had become vulnerable under the impact of sociocultural and geopolitical transformations that could bring irreversible damage to its authenticity and integrity.” Since there are/were ongoing political and cultural conflicts occurring between Palestine and Israel that often resulted in conflict, military involvement and destruction, Battir’s establishment as a World Heritage Site is especially significant.
According to Samia Ayyash and Phil Weiss’s article UNESCO Group Votes to Protest Ancient Palestinian Terraces, the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion in 2004 was that if Battir cannot be saved by UNESCO’s World Heritage Program, Israel’s illegal Separation Barrier “will destine Battir to a common Palestinian fate: an uprooted people, an eternal lack of contiguity between families and friends, and a people deprived of their rights to cultural participation, self-determination, and dignity.” In January 2015, the High Court of Justice in Israel froze plans for the construction of the Separation Barrier. Also, according to UNESCO:
"The cultural landscape is well protected by the Palestinian laws, among which the National charter for the Conservation of cultural heritage in Palestine, which was drafted with the contribution of UNESCO and ICCROM. A management plan is currently being finalized by the village council and actions are being taken to preserve the terraces, the pathways and the irrigation system. An Eco museum was created to ensure a sustainable system of management and protection. These efforts were carried out in full partnership with the main stakeholders and the local community." - UNESCO
This video from Sky News shows Battir’s irrigation systems and terraces well, while discussing how people were uniting to save the ancient village of Battir before UNESCO came to help. (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veb9ijGfrok)
Insight into Global Issues
WHY IS THIS SIGHT IMPORTANT TO NON-ARCHAEOLOGISTS?
For the future of archaeology, it is very important for people around the world to realize that archaeology can bring in a valuable perspective by providing a lense that can help us look back on the history and heritage of our world. Archaeology can directly help with sustainability and environmental issues by uncovering the successes and failures of past peoples. Archaeological research can also play a role in researching areas that are becoming urbanized.
This want to build a wall on the land directly correlates with archaeologist Jeremy Sabloff’s opinion that short-term thinking is dangerous. Sabloff believes this because processes affecting landscapes operate over centuries, not just a few years or decades. Short-term thinking might miss all of the different factors that occur on a broad timescale. For example, the fact that our government is more concerned with how the economy will be today and next year than how the environment will be in the next century is incredibly dangerous because they do not understand the full effects of their actions. The building of this wall could help with modern day issues, like keeping people from neighboring countries out, or possibly helping the economy by charging a fee to surpass the wall. Also, although the wall being there won’t really have a lot of effects right now, it will make the farmland much more difficult to use, causing very negative effects in the future. Sabloff’s theory is also proven by archaeological research, that indeed shows that some decisions made by past people with short term thinking in mind were not the best decisions.
The fact that these people have used the same practices over many years shows that these people have been able to sustain themselves through an ever changing Earth with these agricultural techniques. Sabloff mentions in his book that in the journal Science, Peter deMenocal discusses that archaeological events are actually very relative to us today because they document both the resilience and the vulnerability of civilizations to an ever changes environment. Knowledge about these events of the past go hand in hand with knowledge about the changes in our planet, and could potentially help us assess modern preparedness for adapting to a changing environment by seeing what has worked in the past, and what has not worked.
Although the main issue for the endangerment of this site is development/ urbanization, archaeological studies for sustainability also play a key role in determining the importance of this site. For example, In the film The Secret of El Dorado, scientists discover that the past people of the Amazon rainforest developed a soil called “Terra Preta” in order to sustain themselves agriculturally, since the natural soil in the Amazon could not sustain crops. Scientists found out that it was just as good, if not even better, than many of the developments we have in agriculture today- and it sustained people in the Amazon for years. Developments like Terra Preta may be able to help us farm in more areas of the world, improve the efficiency of our agriculture, and may be able to help us farm in ways that are better for the environment and better for sustaining our planet. This is an example of how the agricultural techniques of past peoples can be beneficial to us today. Scientists may find similar things when studying the ways that the people of Battir produce their crops.
In the long run, if the wall were to be built, If the wall mentioned was to be built through the ancient terraces of Battir, it would likely cause even more urbanization to follow. If this land becomes urbanized, we would lose the sustainable farmland and unique farming techniques taking place in Battir.The agricultural system in Battir is still intact today and its integrity is guaranteed and depended by the families of Battir and the surrounding villages. Between these families, a traditional system of distribution is then used to share the water collected through this network between families from the nearby village of Battir. The water distribution system used by the families of Battir is a testament to an ancient egalitarian distribution system that delivers water to the terraced agricultural land based on a simple mathematical calculation and a clear time-managed rotation scheme.
"Will Battir’s nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danger be enough to challenge encroaching settlements and the continued colonization of Palestinian land?" - Samia Ayyash
Battir’s/ the Middle East’s Role in Archaeology
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE PAST OF THESE SIGHTS?
As many of us know, once an archaeological site is destroyed, it can never be replaced. Like many other sites, this site is currently being threatened with infrastructure and development. This is nothing new in the Southern Jerusalem/ Palestine area. By just looking at the map made by LEADR MSU, we can see that there are two sites near Battir, Palestine that are also being affected greatly by infrastructure and development: the Birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem, and the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria, Syrian Arab Republic. The development and increasing amounts of tourism in this site are an endless cycle- as more develops, more tourists come. As more tourists come, more needs to develop to accommodate the tourists.
The development is hurting archaeological sites throughout Bethlehem and is a threat to the heritage of the locals that remain there. This relates to Battir, Palestine, since if a wall is built and roads are developed, it likely cause the area to become more congested with tourism. It is shown on the map made by LEADR MSU that many surrounding sites are threatened by conflict, such as Ancient City of Bosra, Syrian Arab Republic, Ancient City of Bosra, Syrian Arab Republic, Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, Syrian Arab Republic. This is being mentioned because it seems that there is a trend throughout Middle Eastern archaeological sites- many are affected by issues controlled by governmental forces.
As we can see, many places in the Middle East have similar factors endangering their heritage- but does that mean that the archaeological research that takes place here has similarities? According to a summary of my research, the answer is a definite yes. Archaeologists have studied many past conflicts in the Middle East- everywhere from things that happened during the Birth of Jesus all the way to modern days, where much ethnographic field work can be done, since many places in the Middle East have sustained many of their ways. From the study of past conflict, according to Sabloff, archaeologists can learn many of the origins for the nature of warfare in that area since war is a culturally biased activity. Although archaeology cannot stop wars in the Middle East, it can teach us why the war may have started. This relates to the modern day area of Battir because conflict arose when urbanization began to threaten these people’s heritage and their ways of life.
I did have a fairly difficult time finding particular archaeological work relating directly to the issues going on in this sight. However, according to the article Who Really Built Jerusalem’s Historic Terraces by Nir Hasson, archaeologists studying this particular site have spent much of their time dating these terraces in Battir, since, due to their simple stone structure, they are difficult to date, and there are still more terraces being built today. The assumption remains that the first terraces in the area were constructed thousands of years ago (believe to be around 4,000). It is believed that some of the terraces remaining today were built by the residents of the Kingdom of Judah during the Iron Age, or in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras at the latest. Archaeologists used a method called “Optically Stimulated Luminescence” to overcome some of the difficulties they were having in dating these terraces. Optically Stimulated Luminescence is based on dating the last time that the quartz particles in the Earth were exposed to the sun, which is based on the radioactive radiation they accumulate once they are hidden from the sunlight.
“A grain of sand starts out in Sudan, gets carried in the wind and settles on the ground. As long as it’s exposed to light, it has no electric charges. As soon as it’s covered, it starts accumulating electrical charges. A farmer then comes along and gathers earth into his basket or pail, subsequently pouring it onto a terrace he has built. The grain is re-exposed to the sun and the charges are reset at zero again. This is how we know when the earth containing it was poured onto the terrace.” - Yuval Gadot
Archaeologists believe that there is a very close link between the communities that were able to prosper in the hills of Battir and the covering of these hills with extensive terrace systems, due to the fact that agriculture wasn’t really possible in these hills without terraces, and agriculture is needed to sustain large communities of people.
According to the article Who Really Built Jerusalem’s Historic Terraces by Nir Hasson, researchers are now focusing on two additional sites – Nahal Halilim and Nahal Shmuel, both northwest of Jerusalem. These sites contain more collapsed terraces, and the researchers are assuming that they’re older than the previously examined terraces of Southern Jerusalem/ Battir. These terraces, much like the ones in Battir, are at risk of being destroyed due to a plan to build a new neighborhood there. In a similar sense, the last few decades in this area have seen the destruction of many terrace systems for the sake of new developments. This is causing the terraces to gradually disappear.
“They say to you, ‘Should we stop building a new neighborhood because of a terrace? There are a thousand more!’ However, the truth is there used to be 1,000, but 990 have already been destroyed." - Yuval Gadot
Ayyash, Somia and Phil Weiss
2014 UNESCO Group Votes to Protest Ancient Palestinian Terraces. Electronic Document, http://mondoweiss.net/2014/06/palestinian-terraces-israels/, accessed 20 November, 2016.
Barrett, Matthew (Ex. Producer)
The Secret of Eldorado – TERRA PRETA, Documentary, 20 February 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Os-ujelkgw, accessed 20 November 2016.
2013 West Bank Barrier Could Split 4,000-year-old farming village. Electronic Document, http://old.theartnewspaper.com/articles/West-Bank-barrier-could-split-yearold-farming-village/30799, accessed 21 November 2016.
2016 Who Really Built Jerusalem’s Historic Terraces. Electronic Document, http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/.premium-1.701948, accessed November 27, 2016.
Date N/A. Cultural Preservations in Areas of Military Conflict: Interpreting the Shortcomings and Success of International Laws. Electronic Document, https://www.bu.edu/ilj/files/2016/06/BIN206.pdf, accessed December 1, 2016
Sabloff, Jeremy A.
2008 Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Routledge, London.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
2014 Palestine: Land of Olives and Vines – Cultural Landscape of Southern Jerusalem, Battir, inscribed on World Heritage List and on List of World Heritage in Danger. Electronic Document, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/208/, accessed November 28, 2016.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
2015 World Heritage in Danger. Electronic Document, http://whc.unesco.org/en/158/, accessed November 30, 2016
World Monuments Fund
Date N/A, Ancient Irrigated Terraces of Battir. Electronic Document, https://www.wmf.org/project/ancient-irrigated-terraces-battir, accessed 15 November 2016