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Navigating the al-baḥr al-muẓlim: an Assessment of the Investigation, Mitigation and Preservation of Morocco’s Maritime Cultural Heritage

Abstract

Despite the Kingdom of Morocco’s extensive coastline and strategic position between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, study of the region’s maritime history has been limited. Recent archaeological investigations, however, reveal the great promise of the physical remains and historical depth of the region’s maritime cultural heritage. As is the case with other countries in Africa, there are critical factors that adversely affect not only the exploration of this heritage, but also its recognition and preservation. Against this background, the Oued Loukkos Survey was developed in order to mitigate such critical factors at the site of Lixus (Larache) by implementing a cross-disciplinary methodology and cooperation between several Moroccan and foreign institutions. As Morocco recently ratified the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, a more comprehensive legal framework is now in place alongside existing national legislation for such mitigation practices to be enacted on a broader scale.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Medieval geographers referred to the area of present-day northern Morocco as “jazîrat al-maghrib”—‘the island of the west’; Shaw 1976:144–145; Shaw 2003:100–106.

  2. 2.

    For example, Pindar quoted in Strabo, Geography 3.5.5.

  3. 3.

    For example, al-Idrîsî §167: “al-baḥr al-muẓlim” (the sea of darkness); al-Muqaddasî §35 and al-Khwârizmî 521: “al-baḥr al muḥît” (the surrounding sea); al-Marrâkishî 5: “al-baḥr al-zakhkhâr” (the violent sea).

  4. 4.

    As a reflection of the difficulty in establishing the administration in the Spanish zone, a preliminary version of this council was based in Madrid in 1916 before re-organising and moving its offices to Tetouan in 1919; Gozalbes 2008:34–35.

  5. 5.

    This situation was in marked contrast to that of the Spanish settlements remaining in North Africa after independence. For example, in the autonomous city of Ceuta, since the 1960s, sports divers have explored the waters around the peninsula. One in particular, Juan Bravo, recovered numerous Punico-Maurtetanian and Roman anchors and amphorae, and located the wreck of a late seventeenth-century French vessel. An avocational maritime archaeologist, he published many reports on his finds which now form the core of the collection of the Museo Municipal de Ceuta; see Bernal 2004.

  6. 6.

    Dahir (royal decree) No. 1-80-341 of 25 December 1980, promulgation of Law No. 22–80: “No person, unless authorized, can undertake excavations, terrestrial or marine research, in order to uncover monuments or movable objects which are for Morocco historically, archaeologically, or anthropologically relevant to the study of the past and the humanities in general…. The marine area subject to this prohibition is the exclusive fishing zone defined by Article 4 of Dahir no. 1.73.211 of 21 Muharram 1371 (March 2, 1973), defining the limit of territorial waters and exclusive Moroccan fishing zone, or by the laws which have supplemented or amended this.”

  7. 7.

    I.e., a project recording the historic monuments of the Drâa Valley (Kölbl et al. 2003); the rock-art of the Figuig and Ksours Mountains (Salih and Ben Amara 2006).

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the directors and colleagues of the Oued Loukkos Survey: Dr. Aomar Akkeraz, Prof. Nadia Mhammdi, Prof. Maria Snoussi, Prof. Lloyd Huff, Hicham Hassini, Mohammed Ali Geawhari and Hasnaae Jirari. The survey could not be possible without the extensive and generous support of INSAP, Institut Scientifique of Université Mohammed V—Agdal, the Centre for Maritime Archaeology of the University of Southampton, Ocean Server Technology, Inc. and the Center for Coastal & Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire. I am indebted to my colleagues at INSAP, especially Dr. Elarbi Erbati, Dr. Hassan Limane and Dr. Abdelaziz El Khayari, who have generously and repeatedly collaborated and helped in my research endeavours in Morocco and its maritime heritage over the last decade. The Oued Loukkos Survey is supported by the Morocco Maritime Research Group, American Institute for Maghrib Studies and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. Arturo Rey da Silva at UNESCO helpfully provided several sources for this paper.

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Trakadas, A. Navigating the al-baḥr al-muẓlim: an Assessment of the Investigation, Mitigation and Preservation of Morocco’s Maritime Cultural Heritage. J Mari Arch 7, 165–192 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11457-012-9088-7

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Keywords

  • Morocco
  • Lixus
  • Oued Loukkos
  • Coastal development
  • Port