Exploring Faynan’s path to economic growth through cultural heritage

Faynan is a region of economic impoverishment in southern Jordan. Its Bedouin community is one of the most disadvantaged, with high levels of unemployment.

Current paths to economic growth involve development of tomato and melon farming and tourism. But farming inadvertently destroys and threatens cultural heritage when desert is turned into irrigated fields. And tourism is limited. Faynan is often by-passed by tourists on their way to world-famous Petra. It can be hard to appreciate Faynan’s heritage.

Faynan is also a region of remarkable natural beauty. It has one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the world. Buried below its desert sands, built out of its sandstone, and tunnelled into its cliffs are the remains of human settlements from half a million years ago to recent times. These tell us things about stone age hunter-gatherers, the development of farming communities, and emergence of the copper industry that flourished under Faynan’s Roman occupation.

Between 2008-2010, Professor Mithen, had the thrilling experience of excavating Wadi Faynan 16 (WF16). A 12,000-10,000-year-old Neolithic settlement in Faynan.

With an award from the Newton-Khalidi fund the ‘Our Past, Our Future, All Together in Faynan’ (OPOF) project team aim to use the cultural heritage of Faynan to attract ecotourists. Those who wish to engage with the local landscapes, heritage, and community rather than just rushing from hotel to hotel. By encouraging eco-tourism, the project will generate income for the local community and develop awareness about the need to protect the archaeological sites.

OPOF has developed the local museum by creating wall displays about Faynan’s cultural heritage, representing the work of the local community, and providing display cases for objects excavated from Wadi Faynan 16. It has constructed heritage trails for visitors; produced a cultural heritage education kit for the local schools; written guides to the archaeology and bird life of Faynan; and devised a development plan to transform the museum into a community hub.

While these developments are valued, the local community wished to have a more direct income from tourism. Newton Prize 2020 follow-on funding was secured that has enabled the Faynan Heritage Women’s Cultural Association (FHWCA) to be established. This has provided training for local women in business skills and handicrafts, leading to a range of products based on the unique cultural heritage of Faynan. Many of these use the motifs from the ancient Neolithic objects excavated at Wadi Faynan 16 and are now on sale in the Faynan Museum.  

You can visit the Faynan Museum in southern Jordan, but if you are unable you can admire its range of products online: www.Faynanheritagehome.com

“Our Past, Our Future, All Together in Faynan’ has been a wonderful journey. It has turned ancient objects excavated from the Faynan sands, that would have otherwise been of interest to academics alone, into products that support the sustainable development of the local community.”

Professor Steven Mithen, Principal Investigator, University of Reading.

Our Past, Our Future, All Together in Faynan’

Project Leads: Steven Mithen, University of Reading, UK, and Fatima al-Namari, University of Petra, Jordan.

Partner Organisations: University of Leeds, Queen Marys College, UK, and University of Jordan, Council for British Research in the Levant, Future Pioneers for Empowering Communities (FPEC), Jordan.