The Libya Observer speaks to Professor Anna Leone, member of the Centre for the Study of the Ancient Mediterranean and the Near East. She worked on several projects in order to preserve the Libyan antiquities in Sabratha and Jabal Nafusa, and participated in the training of Libyan cadres for the management of sites and monuments in Libya.

 Interviewed by Aisha Al Hijazi

Professor Anna Leone

Q-You have a valuable participation in projects to reduce trafficking and looting of Libyan antiquities, brief us more about this?

A- The illicit trafficking is great concern to me. Since 2016, I have worked with a team for the Department of Antiquities (DOA) in Libya and the Institut National du Patrimoine de Tunisie to create an app called HeDAP for the fast recorded of object and a database. The system has been tested and improved thanks to the collaboration of the Libyan and Tunisian teams. We have now handed over the system to the DOA in Tripoli and they are implementing it to create a digital museum catalogue. This will be an essential tool not only to stop illicit trafficking, but also to improve the management of collections. We are also going to pilot the use of the system in Iraq soon. The fight against illicit trafficking is a priority and the DOA is fully on board and very collaborative on this problem.


Q-You participated in a project aimed at training Libyan cadres working in the archaeological field? Could you tell us more details about this project?

A- I have started collaborating with the Department of Antiquities of Libya since 2013 with a project on GIS training (focusing on the Jebel Nafusa) and then continued from 2017 to 2019 with the project Training in Action funded by the British Council, We trained a total of 72 heritage professionals from Libya and Tunisia on: survey, GPS, magnetometry, photogrammetry, 3D modeling, drones, condition assessment, site management, conservation, public engagement, museum catalogue and HeDAP. The training structure was based on my experience and methodology developed from 2013-2017. The training had to be on steps and based on data that the trainees were recording themselves. The trainees needed to help specific characteristics: leadership, committed and motivated, smart, computer literate. The project was a success, it was a truly collaboration between trainees and the trainers. Through the training, they also managed to collect an enormous set of data. Aside being a success as a training project, it was also an incredible experience and I have made friends for life.


Q-Your research focused on the study of urban development in Roman cities in North Africa, what did you find out on this study?

A- The development of Roman cities in North Africa from the 3rd c. to the 8th/9th c. I wrote two books and many articles on this topic. I initiated a tradition of studies, which other have followed to look at  old colonial excavations, which were mostly destroying later phases of occupation, and I tried to make sense of them and identify trends and directions. I found out that societies are very resilient, and they can easily transform and reuse everything that is available. I also found out that no matter what the situation is. Societies always find a way to express their identities. Different religions coexisted mostly peacefully in ancient cities, and they continued to use the same practices and symbols reinterpreting them over and over.  For more details you can look at my books: Changing Townscapes in North Africa  and The End of the Pagan City .


Q- Do you have studies and projects about Libya in the near future?

A- I have many projects.  Concerning Libya I am due to start a project on the protection of the tangible and intangible heritage of the Nafousa and the region of Tataouine in Tunisia, which also include building conservation, making documentaries, and impact of climate change.


Q- Women like you are considered role models for young women, what  advice would you like to give to Libyan women who are specialized in the field of archeology?

 A-Do not be afraid of saying what you think, and if you are not listened say it louder, until someone realizes you are speaking and you have ideas and starts pay attention to you. Do not allow anyone to make you think that you are incapable of doing something, always show what you can do, work harder than the others, if you do more than average, they will have to notice it and recognize your work.


Q- You worked for many years in Libya…How would you describe your working experience with Libyan archaeological experts?

Α- I have worked with many people. There is one thing that I love which I have seen happening I would say in the 97% of my relationship with Libyan archaeologists, it is the human relationship, getting to know them and get their trust and mutual respect. And even when you disagree, that trust and respect is always there, and allows you to maintain with these people friendship for life. There are a few cases, but very few, where my trust and the respect towards me was ended, and I was hurt, but this only happened a very limited number of times, I can count them on one hand. My experience with Libyan colleagues has almost always been wonderful, I have collaborated with very hard working, clever, and respectful people. There is not an episode, but many episodes, I can just tell you about the close collaborations with some trainees, who delivered the work they promised they were going to do ,  by the deadline, without even telling me how difficult it was for them to go out and do that job, without telling me they did not have heating for the houses, or flour for the bread. They promised to me and they delivered it, without asking for anything. And this is what I mean when I talk about trust and respect, I would always help them, and they would always help me, and I know I can count on them, and they know they can count on me.