CISA3 at Calit2 Forges Collaboration with Jordan's Department of Antiquities

By Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

San Diego, Calif., Dec. 22, 2010 — The new director of the Department of Antiquities in Amman, Jordan, recently visited the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) at the University of California, San Diego, to explore ways the two organizations might collaborate on developing cutting-edge digital technologies for the preservation and presentation of Jordan’s cultural heritage.
Graduate student Kyle Knabb, Tom Levy, Mohammad Najjar and Ziad al-Saad
Professor Ziad Al-Saad (pictured at right), the new director of Jordan's Department of Antiquities, tours a virtual representation of an archaeology site in Calit2's StarCAVE. Al-Saad met with several representatives of Calit2 and UC San Diego, including (L-R) Calit2-affiliated graduate student Kyle Knabb, CISA3 Associate Director Tom Levy, and Mohammad Najjar, who is co-director of UCSD’s archaeology field project in Jordan’s copper ore rich Faynan district.

Professor Ziad Al-Saad met with UCSD anthropology professor Thomas E. Levy and members of archaeological research institutes from around the world at a two-day workshop held at Calit2’s UCSD headquarters in Atkinson Hall. The workshop was designed to introduce Al-Saad to the high-tech cyber-archaeology pursuits taking place in Calit2’s Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3), as well as to familiarize him with the related work of several North American colleagues conducting archaeological research in Jordan — notably Chris Tuttle, associate director of the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), the umbrella organization for North American archaeologists working in Jordan. Also participating in the discussions was former Department of Antiquities official Mohammad Najjar, a long-time research collaborator of Levy’s who is co-director of UCSD’s archaeology field project in Jordan’s copper ore rich Faynan district south of the Dead Sea.

After round-table discussions and a tour of Calit2’s facilities — including its super-high-resolution HIPerSpace display wall and 3-D immersive StarCAVE virtual-reality environment, which enable CISA3 archaeologists to visualize massive digital datasets — Dr. Al-Saad said he considers the potential for collaboration with UC San Diego “immense.”

“This is the most advanced place in the world with these technologies,” he said of the institute. “I think that with the cooperation of Calit2 we can transfer this know-how to our people. Our local universities are a good resource for creating new capacity, but we need to create partnerships between local and international universities.”

Added Levy: “Because of his own training in materials science and conservation, Prof. Al-Saad  has a deep appreciation for the role of science and technology in archaeology, so this is really exciting not only for me, but for my colleagues in Jordan as well. Because everything we’re doing in digital archaeology and cyberinfrastructure is cutting-edge, we want to provide some useful models for the Department of Antiquities to consider.”

A recent governmental re-organization in Jordan has made the Department of Antiquities (DOA) the primary institution for identifying, excavating, interpreting, protecting, conserving, presenting and managing Jordan’s cultural heritage. (Some of those roles were previously filled by Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities). According to Al-Saad, a professor at Jordan’s Yarmouk University who took over leadership of the organization five months ago, a lack of adequately trained staff and resources means the DOA “has a long road ahead.”

“We need to enhance the technical capacity of the DOA,” he explained. “We need new skill sets, more staff, basic geophysical, digitalsurveying equipment, and analytical instruments. Many  of our artifacts are not properly registered.. A great deal of destruction and vandalism is taking place around our archaeological heritage sites. We need people in every area, and we need to make more funding available.”

Following his tour of Calit2’s facilities at Atkinson Hall, Al-Saad said he was particularly impressed with the work both graduate and undergraduate students are doing to improve technologies that are traditionally used at excavation sites, such as the balloon-mounted aerial digital camera system that was developed in the Calit2 Circuits Lab as part of the new UCSD-National Geographic Society Engineers for Exploration program. He added that certain Calit2 technologies, such as its use of 4K digital cinema (which is four times the resolution of high-definition television), would enhance the visitor experience at Jordan’s many sites of archaeological interest.

“4K and 3D visualization platforms can become a very important presentation tool for our sites,” said Al-Saad. “We have 13 museums that until now were mainly warehouses. This will change with the introduction of these technologies.”

The UCSD Research & Jordan Archaeology World Cultural Heritage Workshop was an activity of Calit2’s new five-year project funded under the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT), which is the National Science Foundation's flagship interdisciplinary training program. The program aims to educate Ph.D. scientists and engineers with teamwork and collaborative research across traditional disciplinary boundaries. IGERT grants also prepare grad students to solve large and complex research problems of significant scientific and societal importance at the national and international level.

Najjar, Levy, Tuttle, Al-Saad and Mark Jurgensen
The day before the workshop, Levy (second from left) took Al-Saad (second from right) to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a special tour by former Superintendent of the park Mark  Jorgensen (at right). Also pictured are Mohammad Najjar and Chris Tuttle. 
The five years of funding provided under the IGERT grant will enable Levy and his colleagues to work on cyber-archaeology tools for deployment in the field at a variety of archaeological sites in southern Jordan’s Faynan district that is one of two international field locations where faculty and students from UCSD will be exposed to the use of diagnostic tools to preserve cultural heritage. (The other field site is in Florence, Italy.) The NSF-funded project will thus train graduate students in the field, while also benefiting Jordan’seconomy.

The day before the workshop, Levy took the visitors from Jordan to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for a special tour by former Superintendent of the park Mark Jorgensen.  Anza Borrego is California’s largest state park.  According to Levy, “Anza Borrego provides a model of how our state manages both cultural and natural resources in a beautiful desert environment.  As our Jordanian colleagues are interested in the long-term conservation of their Faynan ancient mining and metallurgy district, we wanted them to see Anza-Borrego and learn from Mark and his colleagues.”

“When people talk about tourism in Jordan, they’re talking about archaeological sites in the Holy Land,” noted Al-Saad. “We must keep safe Jordan’s heritage treasures for future generations.”

After all, he added, “archaeology is a quest for the origin of civilization and the origin of technology. There you can find answers for many questions of present-day and future.”

Media Contacts

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

Related Links

Department of Antiquities of Jordan


UCSD Department of Anthropology