Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership Capstone Course

As part of the Oriental Institute’s Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership, from February 4–15, 2019, five members of the Afghanistan Institute of Archaeology (AIA), including its director, participated in a two-week intensive training course at the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) Laboratory at the OI in Chicago. Funded by the US Embassy-Kabul, the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership (AHMP) is a four-year project that uses remote sensing satellite imagery to develop a map and geospatial database of all of the main archaeological sites in Afghanistan. This database currently documents more than 20,000 confirmed and probable archaeological sites. At the same time, AHMP focuses on capacity building by training the staff of the AIA in the application of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to archaeology and cultural heritage resource management. 

After teaching four GIS-in-archaeology courses in Kabul, the OI was able to bring the staff of the AIA and its director Noor Agha Noori to the University of Chicago for intensive hands-on training in the use of our geospatial database for two main goals: a) recording and managing archaeological sites, and b) the use of this information to ensure that future economic development projects in Afghanistan take into account the need to preserve the country’s rich archaeological heritage. At the conclusion of the project, we will turn over the entire database to the AIA, which will be the primary archive for this material in Afghanistan. This training is essential for the sustainability of the geospatial database as a resource for ongoing and future heritage management in Afghanistan.

During their stay in Chicago, the AIA trainees also visited the Oriental Institute Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other activities. The director of the AIA, Noor Agha Noori, delivered a well-attended academic lecture at the OI about the AIA’s rescue excavations at the early Buddhist city of Mes Aynak and the challenges of preserving cultural heritage within an economic development initiative.

The Capstone Course was extremely successful in giving the AIA staff practical hands-on experience with the ways in which the geospatial database can be used both to document heritage and as a planning tool. As AHMP continues, we hope to conduct additional training courses in Kabul, in the US, and online, while we continue to build the database.

We especially want to thank AIA director Noor Agha Noori, course instructors Tony Lauricella and Eric Hubbard, our translator Kimia Maleki, along with OI Field Director, Afghanistan, Alejandro Gallego Lopez for his assistance in facilitating the AIA staff’s trip to Chicago.