The Cyrenaica Coastal Survey Project: documenting endangered maritime heritage in Libya

Julia Nikolaus, Mohamed Abdrbba, Ahmed Emrage

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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This paper introduces the Cyrenaica Coastal Survey (CCS), a collaborative project between the Maritime Endangered Archaeology project and the Department of Antiquities (DoA) Cyrenaica in partnership with the Universities of Al Bayda and Benghazi in Libya. Since the Arab Spring in 2011 and the subsequent civil unrest in Libya, heritage professionals, the DoA, and various individuals interested in heritage have struggled to safeguard heritage sites across the country, as policies and laws that protected archaeological sites were no longer reinforced and adhered to in the wake of the revolution. This lack of finances, capacity, and governmental support led to an unprecedented loss of archaeological sites since 2011. The CCS survey records the current condition of maritime sites along the Cyrenaican coast. The project focuses on the smaller, lesser known, coastal heritage sites that are not as well studied as the much larger classical period port towns of Apollonia, Tocra, or Ptolemais. This article will focus on the results of the first phase of the project between ancient Phycus (modern Zawiet el-Hamama) and Kainopolis (modern Al-Ogla). The results of the first stage of the Cyrenaica Coastal Survey provides a snapshot of the damages and threats that coastal heritage faces in Libya, most notably (often unregulated) building activities, clearance, sand mining, and coastal erosion. Furthermore, this article highlights the importance of remote collaboration between UK institutions, in-country partners, and heritage authorities, especially in countries where the discipline of maritime archaeology has been established more recently.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberJMAR-D-21-00041R1
Pages (from-to)421-444
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Maritime Archaeology
Issue number3
Early online date13 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 13 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The MarEA Project is joint project between the University of Southampton and Ulster University and is funded by ARCADIA, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. We are grateful to the Society for Libyan Studies and to the Faculty of Humanities and Arts Strategic Research Fund, University of Southampton who supported the second and third phase of the CCS project. The CCS project would not have been possible without the ongoing and enthusiastic support of the members of the DoA in Cyrenaica, and finally, we would like to thank the entire survey team of Libyan heritage professionals for their hard work and support for the CCS project.

Funding Information:
Given the limited amount of intensive survey work undertaken at coastal sites, more work is needed to determine their size and extent to be able to erect protective fences and barriers where necessary. The production of information panels that can be placed on the sites can highlight their archaeological and historical importance to the public, and can also serve as a reminder that this property is protected by law. However, it is important to keep in mind that realistically, with the current speed of development along the Libyan coast, it will be impossible to save all the sites that the CCS survey has covered. Rescue excavations of imminently threatened heritage could, at the very least, ensure that a detailed record of the site exists. Financial support from foreign partners creates opportunities for such urgent and necessary interventions to protect archaeological sites. Some of the financial support received through the CCS survey enabled the construction of a perimeter wall around the coastal site of Awlad Sidi Noah after the second stage of the survey was concluded. Signage has been installed on the site detailing its importance and its protected status in law (Fig. ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Maritime archaeology
  • Libya
  • Heritage Management
  • Capacity building
  • collaboration
  • survey
  • Cyrenaica
  • Heritage management
  • Coastal survey
  • S.I. : Endangered Maritime Archaeology


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