In light of contemporary discussions on the preservation of world heritage, this article considers the cultural costs of archaeological reconstruction and site development. Popular, political and scholarly discussions often presume that the preservation of material heritage functions as a shining knight battling the dark forces of destruction. Yet far from purely constructive, sites we think of as authentically historical are often reconstructions. Their resurrection often depends on the erasure of intermediary traditions and the displacement of local communities, making them highly contested political symbols. As political frameworks shift, the tension between preservation and destruction established through this process often serves as propaganda. Examining the effects of archaeological site reconstruction on local populations at Tadmur (Palmyra, Syria); Geyre (Aphrodisias, Turkey); Wadi Halfa (Abu Simbel, Egypt and Sudan); and Bamiyan (Afghanistan), this article examines the dangers in the instrumentalization of world heritage as a rhetoric of ownership that pits civilization against barbarism without considering the complex costs that accrue as we access the past. The past can only retain value for the future if it does not come at the cost of the living present.
Keywords: Abu Simbel; Aphrodisias; Bamiyan; Palmyra; tourism; world heritage
Shaw, Wendy M. K. "In Situ: The Contraindications of World Heritage." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 6, Number 2 (pp. 339-365) , edited by Stephennie Mulder, Bristol: Intellect, 2017.