Summary of the IMPART Research Project and Symposium, 2014-2016; Integrating the public-private sectors for successful planning, conservation and management of rock art tourism development in the Negev, Dr. Joshua Schmidt

Summary of the IMPART Research Project and Symposium, 2014-2016; Integrating the public-private sectors for successful planning, conservation and management of rock art tourism development in the Negev, Dr. Joshua Schmidt


The bi-national (Israel-Italy) research project entitled “Integrative Multilateral Planning to Advance Rock Art Tourism” (IMPART) was jointly funded by the Israeli Ministry of Science, Technology and Space and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and combined researchers from the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Department of Hotel and Tourism Management, Ben-Gurion University and the Higher Institute on Territorial Systems for Innovation (SiTI), in Torino, Italy. IMPART focused on the urgent need to establish an interdisciplinary management plan to ensure the future protection and conservation of Negev rock art, a unique and vulnerable cultural heritage resource which currently is being threatened by an exponential increase in public interest and aggressive plans to develop the region for tourism.

Negev rock art hunting scene involving a dog and ibex

Coordinated by Dr. Joshua Schmidt from the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center, the IMPART study involved two concurrent streams of research: archeological and socio-touristic. Over the course of the two-year study, the archaeology unit conducted in-situ fieldwork in Har Hanegev and used digital mapping technologies to survey rock art located at Ramat Matred. The results from this survey, which included both rock art and other archaeological remains, enabled the researchers to establish a baseline for contextualizing forthcoming conservation-cum-development efforts for Negev rock art.

IMPART researchers Professor Natan Uriely, from the Department of Hotel and Tourism Management, Ben-Gurion University and Dr. Davida Eisenberg-Degen from the Israel Antiquities Authority, conducting Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) within the context of IMPART fieldwork in the Negev Highlands, March, 2014

At the same time, in conjunction with their Italian partners, the socio-tourism unit combined theoretical research on rock-art conservation and tourism development with applied ethnographic fieldwork to ascertain a ‘best practices’ benchmark for the development of rock art tourism in Har Hanegev. To this aim, the researchers gathered extensive ethnographic data through Key Informant Interviews (KII) and a series of questionnaires disseminated among central stakeholder-informants from the public and private sectors as well as national and international tourists. 

IMPART research assistants conducting fieldwork, Ramat Matred, Negev Highlands

In December 2016, the IMPART team held a dissemination seminar in Mitzpe Ramon, entitled “Integrating the public-private sectors for successful planning, conservation and management of rock art tourism development in the Negev”. The aim of the symposium was to present to various professionals in the public and private sector the principal findings and research results from the IMPART study and then discuss ways for integrating the diverse parties in the future planning, conservation and management initiatives for the development of rock art tourism in the Negev. The symposium was open to the public and included invited attendees from the Israeli Ministry of Science, the Embassy of Italy, academics and international experts in rock art as well as representatives from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the Ramat Negev Regional Council, the Mitzpe Ramon local municipality, the Israel Government Tourism Corporation,  the Har Hanegev Tourism Board, the Authority for the Development and Settlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, the National Parks Authority and a host of regional tourism operators, some of whom had previously participated in the study as informants and interviewees.

Dr. Stefano Boccaletti, Scientific Attaché at the Italian Embassy of Israel, delivering opening remarks at the IMPART symposium, Mitzpe Ramon, December, 2016.

Sara Levi-Sacerdotti, the head of the Italian IMPART team, discusses analytical methodologies during the IMPART symposium, Mitzpe Ramon, December, 2016. 

International rock art expert, George Nash, presents a lecture on devising rock art management plans at the IMPART dissemination symposium, Mitzpe Ramon, December, 2016.

The academic forum and panel debate were preceded by a field-outing to the Ramat Matred rock art site where IMPART archaeologists gave a tour of the survey area and explained their main findings and the key insights that emerged from their fieldwork. Afterwards, the symposium participants reconvened in Mitzpe Ramon for lunch and participated in two seminar sessions. In the first, the IMPART team presented their findings relating to the overall thesis question ‘should we and how can we conserve and develop rock art in the Negev?’. The second session consisted of a panel discussion. The panel delegates, local stakeholders and Negev rock art experts, were asked to relate to their vision for the conservation of Negev rock art versus its development; the current stance and potential future role for the authority that they represent regarding management and development of rock art in the Negev; how specifically could their organization contribute to the success of this undertaking; and if, in fact, they thought there was a need for another rock art park beyond what is currently being developed in the Negev. 

During the IMPART symposium field outing, Professor Steve Rosen, from the Department of Bible, Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, Ben-Gurion University, debates rock art interprepation with tour guide and rock art enthusiast, Yehuda Rotblum, artist Itzu Remer and the IMPART ecologist, Dr. Ron Frumkin, Ramat Matred, December, 2016.

Taking into consideration the opinions, comments and analytical remarks voiced during the symposium, the researchers assembled a summary report of the IMPART research that integrates the findings from the combined archaeological, ethnographic, environmental and tourism research. Overall, the IMPART team found that future sustainable development and valorization of Negev rock art may be divided into four potential scenarios:

  1. Public management of the rock art to be undertaken by the National Parks Authority (NPA);
    1. The option of creating a Nature Reserve entails a more limiting statutory arrangement that will feasibly impede upon working relations with the IDF, the local Bedouin populations and may clash with the ongoing and future tourism development schemes. As such, within this context, it appears that the best option would be for the NPA to create a National Park whose statutory requirements are less administratively constricting and therefore more inclusionary in terms of local populations. 
  2. Formation of a public-private partnership managed by the Ramat Negev Regional Council/Mitzpe Ramon Local Council (the public component) and supported by an array of private tourism operators (local and incoming);
    1. This option would presumably integrate the private sector, local tourism operators, as well as the Bedouin populations who could conceivably earn a living from working at the park while also ensuring that it maintains a localized, authentic, character. The downside of this option is that at present it remains uncertain the degree to which the public sector, that is the local (Mitzpe Ramon) and regional (Ramat Negev) councils, is equipped to plan, supervise and gainfully manage a sustainable and functioning rock art park.
  3. Pause all future development in favor of continued research pertaining to Negev rock art while also setting in place viable best practices for its sustainable conservation;
    1. Especially favored by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, this option would enable researchers to continue studying and cataloging Negev rock art while also allowing for its tightly organized and closely managed exposure to tourists. The Negev rock art sites would be administered by researchers with visitors/tourists gaining access to the sites only through controlled participatory visits. This manner of ‘archaeological tourism’ has a successful precedent in, for example, the City of David in Jerusalem where a similarly sensitive archaeological site continues to be studied by researchers who are aided in their actions by keen visitors who gain exposure to the site and the latest findings by sharing in the ongoing and often tedious survey work.
  4. 100% Private development.
    1. This option will likely never come to fore as regional development is rooted in and dependent upon the cooperation of the public sector. Moreover, as illustrated in our findings, it is unclear if rock art tourism, particularly within its current jumbled administrative condition, is a profitable undertaking.

Bedouin herders with their flocks nearby Ramat Matred, the Negev rock art site where IMPART researchers conducted archaeology fieldwork.