Our past, our future, all together in Fanyan

Faynan is located south of the Dead Sea on the eastern side of Wadi Araba in southern Jordan. This is an economically deprived area, with pastoralism and irrigation-based farming providing livelihood to members of four Bedouin tribes who live within Faynan: the 'Ammarin, Sa'idiyyin, Rashaydah and 'Azazmah. It has a remarkable archaeological landscape that has been discovered and explored by research teams from the UK, US and Germany over the last forty years, all with support from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities.

While there have been many academic publications, this cultural heritage has not been sufficiently used to support eco-tourism into Faynan which could be a major source of income for sustainable economic growth. Neither has the cultural heritage been made accessible to the local community and used to support social cohesiveness, education and well-being.

The establishment of the Faynan Museum by the Department of Antiquities has provided an opportunity to make progress on both of these matters. Between 2016 and 2018, an AHRC funded project (Discovering WF16) established the first displays within the museum and provided a small number of information boards at the archaeological sites. The success of that project demonstrated the value of further developing the museum.

This new project will involve a close collaboration between UK and Jordanian academics, and the Faynan community. It has the full support of the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities will make a step-change in the ability of the museum to support the local community for sustainable development. By raising awareness and understanding, the project will also help protect and conserve the cultural heritage of Faynan in the face of an expansion of irrigation farming, road and dam development.

The project involves six sub-projects that will:

  1. Co-create an enhanced gallery space to include representation of the last 100 years of Faynan's history within the museum;
  2. Facilitate members of the local community to tell their own history and stories about Faynan in their own way, and represent this within the museum;
  3. Support the six schools in Faynan to develop an awareness and understanding of Faynan's cultural heritage and embed this into the learning and teaching; 
  4. Connect the museum to the landscape by installing information boards at a further 20 archaeological sites;
  5. Make accessible the archaeological sites of Faynan to those who cannot visit Faynan or cannot access the sites in its remote areas by using photogrammetry to document and digitally represent the sites within the museum and on the Faynan heritage website;
  6. Enable the museum to become a community hub by designing social and play space for adults and children in its immediate vicinity.

Each of these projects will be developed jointly with members of the local community in Faynan via workshops. The outcome will be a museum that will support eco-tourism in the region, provide the local community with a means to represent their own history in their own way, support education, social and individual well-being, and help to protect and conserve Faynan's cultural heritage.


'Our Past, Our Future' will address research questions of generic significance for the use of cultural heritage for supporting sustainable development within impoverished rural communities. Via its publications, this project will influence academics, practitioners and policymakers throughout the world who are seeking to use cultural heritage to support economic growth while protecting and conserving that same heritage from the impact of such growth, such as increased visitor numbers at fragile archaeological sites.

More immediately, the project will have two direct impacts on the day-to-day livelihood of the Faynan community:

  1. supporting sustainable economic growth,
  2. contributing to individual well-being and social cohesion.

(1) Supporting sustainable growth via ecotourism and benefiting the MoTA and visitors to Faynan The Jordanian Department of Antiquities has taken a key step towards utilising Faynan's cultural heritage to support eco-tourism by constructing the Faynan Museum, completed in 2017. This museum was, however, an empty shell until the AHRC funded 'Discovering WF16' project (AH/P005594/1) provided an exhibition for the museum and an accompanying book, 'Faynan Heritage: A Celebration and Archaeological Guide'. The 'Our Past, Our Future' project will take the next steps in developing the museum by:

  1. Expanding the museum coverage to cover the last 100 years of Faynan's history
  2. Providing information boards at a series of archaeological sites in Faynan, creating trails in what will become an archaeological park
  3. Providing digital resources in the museum and on the Faynan Heritage website to enhance the visitor experience This will provide a resource base not only for the Faynan Ecolodge but also for the Bedouin-led tourist initiatives in Faynan to attract tourists into Faynan and to maintain them in Faynan for a longer period.

The project will be supportive to the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (MOTA). This has a mission to increase tourism throughout Jordan, but does so with a limited budget and limited capacity. This project will provide expert advice and resource to support the MOTA, demonstrating how relatively small investments can generate significant returns. Visitors to Faynan will be direct beneficiaries. These include international visitors, principally from the US and Europe, and Jordanian visitors, principally from Amman. They primarily come to experience the desert landscapes of Faynan, involving bird watching, trekking and 'Bedouin experience'. By making the cultural heritage accessible, their experience will be enhanced, encouraging them to remain longer in Faynan (with benefits to the local community).

(2) Contributing to individual well-being and social cohesion 'Our Past, Our Future' will enable the local community to acquire a greater sense of ownership of Faynan's cultural heritage than is currently the case, and hence use it for their own exploration and enjoyment. It will provide opportunities for the people of Faynan to represent their own history within the museum, helping to maintain local cultural traditions and identity during a period of economic change. By supporting the teachers in the Faynan Schools, the project will provide new ways of learning and new things to learn about, for children. In general, this project will be supporting educational development in a deprived area.

The term 'Faynan community' is itself problematic because members of four tribes live within Faynan - the 'Ammarin, Sa'idiyyin, Rashaydah and 'Azazmah. While there are generally good relations between these tribes, tensions exist regarding access to land and resources, these arising from competing views of their history in Faynan. By representing the history of each tribe within Faynan within the museum, the project will seek to alleviate tensions between these tribes to build greater social cohesiveness and cooperation within Faynan.

Project website