Ancient archaeological sites are still under threat in Libya

North Africa

Ancient relics in Libya are still under threat due to the difficult circumstances that the country is facing, in addition to continued lack of attention from international organisations.

Ancient archaeological sites remain under threat in Libya due to lack of care and perpetual conflict, which has plagued the country for more than seven years.

Despite relative stability, the sites have not been cared for by the governmental agencies resulting in thousands of relics and artifacts being smuggled outside the country.

“There have been very large violations which continue to occur until this day and this hour,” said an observer. “Despite the attempts of the Antiquities Authority and the tourist police to reduce this phenomenon, it is still rampant.” The ancient city of Shahhat, which was historically known as Cyrene and considered one of the most important Greek cities in the region, is now under significant threat due to residents seizing parts of its land and writing on its pillars and walls.

Due to the militarisation of the Libyan population as a result of the war, the security services are unable to deter many residents from damaging these artefacts due to fear of skirmishes.

“Violations continue to occur because of the equal deterrent power between citizens and the security forces,” said the observer.

Although Shahhat along with five other historical sites is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, International Organisations have not been able to intervene in protecting them directly.

During the height of the clashes in the country, UNESCO appealed to the fighters to protect the archaeological sites. 
“We need support in general, specifically for this site due to difficult circumstances,” said one of the caretakers of Shahhat archaeological site. “We have no support, there is some self-effort from the Antiquities Authority, from the Tripoli Effects Control Unit, and from some benefactors.”

Shahhat is not alone in this. Heritage sites all across Libya have been subject to damage as a result of the conflict. Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, is also seeking to restore its historical sites which have been damaged due to the battles with ISIS.

Observers say that if these archaeological sites were to be protected and rehabilitated, the country could increase its income from the tourism sector significantly.