Jehad Haron is no stranger to breaking new ground in Jordan’s archaeology. As a longtime member of the Department of Antiquities (DOA), he worked on 22 international projects, including 12 salvage excavations at threatened sites in Jordan and abroad, and served a three-year term as the DOA’s Director of Excavations and Survey. As Chief of Bureau for the DOA in 2000, he held the exceptional role of managing and overseeing the site work of foreign archaeologists. In all, Jehad’s DOA career spanned 24 years, during which he visited or worked on, by his own estimate, “just about every site in Jordan.”
Now Jehad is breaking new ground with USAID SCHEP, where he recently took the position of Cultural Heritage Resource (CHR) Projects Lead. I sat down with my new colleague to get a better sense of who he is and to hear his ideas about the future of cultural heritage preservation in Jordan. During our conversation, he had the following to say regarding his vision for the position and what he hopes to accomplish.
“Guidelines. Guidelines are what we need more than anything. We have no rules, no formal process, no way to make sure that [archaeological] sites are being developed, managed, and promoted in a proper way. This is what we need to show the world, that we can do this, that we can be in charge of these areas and do it in a way that will respect the integrity of the site, the integrity of its values.
With any site, you have three main needs that have to be considered: the conservation needs, the local community needs, and visitor needs. I want us to develop a formula to work on all three of these at the same time. I know sometimes they seem very different—How do you make these fun public spaces for tourists and visitors to enjoy, while also protecting the site’s history? How do we make sure the local community feels invested and that they are benefiting from the site, while also respecting the values of that community? It’s a balance between these three, but we can do it.
One of the most important things we can do is ensure that the function of these sites stays the same. Do I want people to visit and enjoy these places? Of course. But I’m not going to turn an ancient church into a nightclub just so people come. This is what we must always ask ourselves: How do we respect the values of these sites? How do we respect the tangible and intangible structures but still allow people to enjoy them? We need to find a way to preserve these values but also develop and promote these sites so more people enjoy cultural heritage.”
As he’s speaking, his passion for these topics is contagious, and it’s hard not to get excited along with him, his hand gestures getting more pronounced the more he talks. I’m reminded of the first time I ever heard him speak. It was at the 13th International Conference on the History and Archaeology of Jordan (ICHAJ) in May 2016, before he had officially joined the USAID SCHEP team. He was presenting during a session on Conservation and Site Management about his experience working with Jordan’s World Heritage Sites. Even then he was vocal about the necessity of involving local communities in the archaeological process, in transferring knowledge to others within Jordan.
“I fear some of the younger people are like leaves in the wind, because they don’t know their own history. It is the job of archaeologists to pass this history on to another generation,” Jehad told me during our interview. “It’s so sad that a boy living right next to an archaeological site knows less about it than a man in a university thousands of miles away.”
For Jehad, community involvement and proper site use and management is more than just a theoretical exercise; they are issues he’s been directly involved with throughout his long career with the DOA. During his time with USAID SCHEP, he hopes to put this extensive field experience to work. “It’s impossible to do this work—really do it—unless you’re out in the field, interacting with people,” he tells me earnestly. “You have to be outside as much as you’re behind a desk.”
Since taking over as CHR Projects Lead in July, he has taken his own advice to heart, undertaking a grueling schedule, touring all five current USAID SCHEP sites and visiting potential locations to be added in the future. During these visits, he talks to everyone from conservation trainees to project directors, getting a sense of the on-the-ground operations and the work that’s still to be done. This hands-on approach and long-standing commitment to community engagement and responsible site development is one of the reasons he has slipped seamlessly into the rest of the USAID SCHEP team.
The intense pace of work with USAID SCHEP is a welcome change for Jehad. “I think I’ll be able to help fill in a lot of gaps, both with USAID SCHEP and at the Department of Antiquities,” said Jehad. “We can be better, and we can do more to advance cultural heritage protection together. I’ve learned a lot and I think I can use it here at USAID SCHEP. I think I can help.”
Written by Sofia J. Smith, USAID SCHEP Communications Officer
This blog article is not official U.S. Government information and does not necessarily represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.