The Living Museum of Umm Qais: Sustainable preservation, analysis and virtual reconstruction of Gadara's ancient site and village

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Civil Engineering


Umm Qais (mkes) is located 120km north of Amman, and its vicinity to Yarmouk River and the Sea of Galilee granted the site a unique significance amongst other Roman Decapolis cities on their Eastern Mediterranean region. The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans left their own marks there. Remains of the city still show theatres, baths, vaulted shops, tombs, cardo and documanus. However, Umm Qais tangible heritage continues to suffer existential threats from a number of factors that affect its archaeological, physical features and morphological transformations and risk its enduring presence on the long-term. These include natural and human-made, such as environmental changes, earthquakes, and new settlement patterns that see the site as more of irrelevant remains of invading foreign cultures than the archaeological heritage of their ancestors. Such antagonizing relationship between community and heritage resulted in lack of knowledge and appreciation of the site's history, archaeological importance, attempts to destroy its elements for economic gains and the lack of economic engagement with tourism that would otherwise benefit hundreds of poor and unemployed community members. Such an antagonist relationship also had its impact on long-term preservation plans and development what requires a critical action of engagement that put the community socio-economic welfare at the heart of the site's preservation and future development.
There is an international effort to implement a sustainable conservation strategy of the site. There is a need to document, record and analyse the multi-layered structures of Umm Qais by implementing an evidence-based strategy and action-plan to inform the sustainable preservation of the site using digital and virtual LiDAR technologies to accurately record its fragmented remains adding sub-layers of socio-cultural history, spatial and architectural transformations. The project will use archaeological and architectural research, state-of-the-art point-cloud laser scanning, virtual modelling, and crowdsourcing of social history to interrogate fragmented evidence of architectural remains and produce coherent narratives of the history of Umm Qais and its role as an important node of regional cultural and political routes. The project will produce a series of textual, visual and virtual outputs including publications, exhibitions, digitally - reconstructed history and virtual tours of the site to support public awareness and user engagement at the Jordan Museums and Umm Qais Museum and at international venues.
This project will widely support a multidisciplinary collaboration between Jordan and the UK. The research team collectively has extensive experience in delivering scholarly research outputs and engaging with government institutions, policymakers and stakeholders. This innovative project will gather new evidence on the archaeological history of the site, its spatial layout, overlapping structures and help building new modes of public engagement with local communities as essential partners in the preservation and development strategy in Jordan. It is designed to challenge the current underuse of the site and develop the heritage of Umm Qais into a living experience that focuses on visitor and user interpretation of history. The project will revive and activate the social role of the archaeological site and museum and work with communities to establish forums for creating a sustainable community asset.
The project will develop Integrated virtual environments that incorporate researched, archived and surveyed datasets to offer 3D & 4D interactive virtual environment supported by infographics, statistical data and Digitised archaeological database of the site. It will attempt to produce a credible layout of the Gadara's spatial structures, buildings' layout and infrastructure overlaying archaeological and spatial data and imaging of the site on a custom-designed ArcGIS model of the site.

Planned Impact

The proposed research programme is designed to bridge the disparate areas of largely isolated research disciplines, creative industry, skill training, and job creation in Jordan that is urgently needed. This programme identifies new territories for research, studies and courses focused on heritage preservation, through overlapping disciplines such as archaeology, architecture, computer science, virtual technology and laser scanning. Association with Hi-Tec Industry, research institutions and VR laboratories in the UK will offer long-term support for research centres and academic institutions, as well as to start-ups and SMEs that will shift research landscape in Jordan towards more applied and practice-led research. Moreover, it is anticipated that there will be an impact on research communities through engagement with organisations, universities and institutes on one side and research policy, decision makers and government agencies on the other. The workshops are designed to foster such engagement with stakeholders and beneficiaries to advance the discourse on the necessity, applications and market-driven technologies of virtual heritage.

As a result of a successful network of museums formed by the AHRC funded BECAMI project 2016/17, the PI supported the establishment of innovative virtual heritage engagement activities and the production of virtual itineraries to link the museums for the first time, new award-winning virtual heritage start-ups resulted in increasing the number of visitors, and produced the first government policy document on managing cultural heritage in the digital age. The team collectively, through several AHRC projects, were able to influence the policy makers views on the significance of virtual technologies in building sustainable platforms for heritage conservation in Egypt. We anticipate that we will be able to apply this with the support of the DoA and academic partners in Jordan. In a continuation of that approach, this proposal designed a range of strategies to influence stakeholders' understanding of and investment in digital and virtual technologies that help alleviate many of the destructive implications of un-tested methods heritage preservation. Workshops with stakeholders would influence formal approach and policy decisions on sustainable tourism in Jordan as a consequence of preservation work.

The local community is a major beneficiary of this project's activities with planned impact on tourist accessibility to the site, either physically or virtually and the associated socio-economic impact. The establishment of a community-led "Friends of Umm Qais" charitable organisation will help sustain the project's impact on the tourism industry and associated services. It will also support the economy and business opportunities for low income and vulnerable groups. This will be achieved through training 140 local young people, university and school students on crowdsourcing data for online tourism information.

The virtual reality platform output will form the basis for new practices with the Jordan and Umm Qais museums in its initial phases. One version will be on display at the University in Leeds to reach out to the international and global audience. These materials will be on display to local communities and young people through educational packages, gaming and mobile apps.

The research programme will also contribute to the establishment of specialist Virtual Heritage Research Unit (VHRU) at JUST and training a group of 35 - 40 archaeologists, computer science, architects and software engineers, and 10 Ph.D./Masters students on the developed model and techniques for similar sites in Jordan. The project will involve graduate courses in Heritage Digitisation at Jordanian Universities and the University of Leeds, with 30-40 prospective graduates over a five-year period.


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