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Buried under bullets: Recovering Libya's lost history

Smoke rises following an air strike during a battle between Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed government and Islamic State militants in Sirte, Libya September 7 2016 REUTERS/Hani Amara
Smoke rises following an airstrike during a battle between Libyan forces allied with the UN-backed government and militants in Sirte, Libya 7 September 2016 [REUTERS/Hani Amara]

Libya is rich in more than just oil, but its cultural heritage in the war-torn north African country of Libya has been long forgotten, left to international organisations to preserve. A country that is unable to withstand the sands of time as large enclaves of heritage sites go untended will eventually lose its heritage and history.

Image of The Haua Fteah trench [Cyrenaica Prehistory Project / CC BY 4.0]

However, not all is lost, as some Libyans work hard to preserve their past. The hard work of nine Libyan archaeologists has unfortunately gone unnoticed as they excavate one of the world's oldest caves, Haua Fteah, which is an archaeological site that spans over 70,000 years. The cave is one of Africa's oldest uninhabited pre-historic sites.

The local Libyan effort is led by Ahmaad Saad Emrage, archaeologist at the University of Benghazi, along with his team: Fadl Abdulazeez, Reema Sulaiman, Akram Al Werfalli, Moataaz Azwai, Saad Buyadem, Badr Shamata, Asma Sulaiman and Aiman Alareefi.

United by their passion to save their country and its glorious history, this team of Libyans have shown exceptional willpower in preserving the past in the face of setbacks and the potential threat from the ongoing military conflict in Libya.

The Libyan team stayed behind even after international researchers had suspended work due to the declining situation in the country and the possibility of having to deal with the threat of Daesh in the region. The Libyan archaeologists had continued excavation of the prehistoric site, where work had originally began in 1951 by Charles McBurney, an archaeologist from the University of Cambridge.

As crisis beckons on the shores and deserts of the gateway to the Sahara, the people who made the country so rich in tradition and culture are being forgotten, much like the country's historic landmarks and heritage. The Libyan people are gifted with such remarkable natural and historic resources, yet have unfortunately lacked in great leaders able to utilise and exploit such gifts for the benefit of the country.

However, the work of these nine Libyans in their determination to battle the instability to conquer such great feats of archaeological determination should not go unnoticed, and their findings should be displayed throughout the country from Cyrenaica to Fezzan and on to Tripolitania.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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