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October 20, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Cover story: From ancient ruins to tourist destinations Cover story: From ancient ruins to tourist destinations (October 20, 2004)

Startup foundation seeks to save and restore cradles of civilization on five continents, including in China, India, Russia, Vietnam, Guatemala, Libya, Peru -- and Iraq

By Marion Softky
Almanac Staff Writer

"I'm bullish on Iraq."

Jeff Morgan of Menlo Park may be one of the few people in the world who can credibly make that statement.

Mr. Morgan is executive director of a start-up foundation that aspires to nothing less than saving sites around the world where civilizations began. As in Iraq, many of these ruins are rapidly being lost to neglect, war, vandalism, looting, erosion, pollution, and new creeping cities.

The Global Heritage Fund (GHF), founded in March 2001, has already made its mark in saving ancient ruins in developing countries, and converting the surrounding communities into thriving tourist destinations.

Starting this year, GHF is taking on the biggest challenge of all. Iraq hosts hundreds of the most ancient and important archaeological sites in the world. The names Nineveh, Babylon, Samarra and Ur are burned into the memories of school children everywhere.

While antiquities in Iraq have suffered devastation from looting, war, and the current fighting, Mr. Morgan and his foundation are planning for a time when Iraq becomes stable again.

"We believe tourism will be the No. 1 industry in Iraq -- after oil," says Mr. Morgan in his office in an old Palo Alto Victorian.

Efforts to protect and restore world heritage sites in Iraq kicked into high gear in June. GHF and the World Bank co-sponsored a conference for Iraqi archaeologists in the famous tourist attraction of Petra, the ancient city carved out of rose-colored cliffs in neighboring Jordan.

Thirty specialists in all aspects of antiquities from all over Iraq spent 10 days in a hands-on workshop, learning what needs to be done to preserve and restore their endangered sites.

"They thought they were coming for a nice trip to Jordan," says Mr. Morgan with a chuckle. "We made them work for 10 days straight to develop site-management plans for the top five sites. And we did it all in Arabic."

Out of the conference came five master conservation plan outlines for the five most endangered sites out of the 16 sites that might qualify as world heritage sites for the United Nations. Now the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Ministry of Culture have a solid framework to continue planning for the management and preservation of some of the earliest cities in human history -- when conditions permit.

This process can move forward as soon as Iraq calms down, Mr. Morgan says. "People don't want war," he says. "All the people I met from Iraq are very positive about the prospects for having a country. They're happy they're free, but very scared for their children."

Silicon Valley style

"We're really saving the cradles of civilization," says Mr. Morgan passionately. "Every site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- the top sites in the world."

Mr. Morgan brings Silicon Valley genes and skills to this new mission. Son of Silicon Valley powerhouses James and Becky Morgan, Jeff was trained as a city planner at Cornell University, and worked for years with big-name companies and startups, here and abroad. He specialized in international sales and marketing, before responding to an inner call to help the world.

Mr. Morgan and archaeologist Ian Hodder, chairman of Stanford's Archaeology Department, co-founded the Global Heritage Fund three-and-a half years ago. Its goal is not only to preserve and restore ancient cultural sites, but to promote tourism around them, and develop self-sustaining, healthy communities.

To this task Mr. Morgan is bringing Silicon Valley know-how and organization to some of the most unlikely spots on earth. His technique is to recruit donors and partners where the money and expertise are, and then build partnerships and funding in the receiving country.

"We focus on a site and build a community partnership for commercial development and travel," Mr. Morgan says. "This allows you to have concrete results in one place. I like that."

With some 200 major sites in developing countries, the process for selecting sites is critical, says Mr. Morgan. He looks for a great team, timing for tourism, and a good location. "If it's in the middle of a desert, no one will live there, and no one will come," he says.

"We use the Picasso test," he continues. "If you can only save six Picassos, which ones do you keep? Out of 15 forts in Russia, which one do you save?"

The result: Izborsk, Russia's oldest fortress, which repelled western invaders for 1,200 years, has already been partly restored through the GHF process of building partnerships and raising funds, both internationally and locally.

"Izborsk is the reason Russians speak Russian today," Mr. Morgan says. "Otherwise they'd speak German or Lithuanian."

So far, Mr. Morgan and GHF have raised $1.8 million. They are actively working on nine sites in eight countries, with an assortment of partners. They have completed several visible projects, and are coming out with a book, "Saving Global Heritage," on December 1.

"Each site tells a life story that is so relevant today," Mr. Morgan observes. "Each site has faced tragedy and war."

Mostly success

One satisfied customer is John Rick of Menlo Park, chairman of the Anthropology Department at Stanford. GHF has supported his work at Chavin de Huantar, a monumental pre-Inca cult center and world heritage site in the high Andes of Peru.

Thanks to a grant from GHF, the circular plaza where feathered priests once held religious rites has been restored. Collapsing drainage canals have been repaired, and some 500 artifacts cataloged.

"Their help has been utterly critical," says Dr. Rick. "Without removing water, the site doesn't have a future."

In addition, GHF has helped organize fundraising involving the local community. A new Chavin Museum will feature artifacts being collected, and a new highway is bringing tourists across the Andes. Dr. Rick notes, "Jeff is already a force in world archaeological conservation."

Mr. Morgan is also proud of the success at Chavin de Huantar. He recalls raising more than $150,000 in Peru, much from two mining companies. Once the private sector is engaged, they can go to the government for funds.

"Tourism is a great economic driver for poor communities," Mr. Morgan says. "There are hotels, restaurants, transport. There are small family-owned businesses. I like that.

"I like to see people getting involved and trained," Mr. Morgan continues. "It's really neat to see young kids in Peru doing conservation. They're making twice as much as their parents, and they have real skills -- and the pride of helping their heritage."

Not all projects are successful. GHF pulled out of a project to restore Gede, an old Swahili city on the east coast of Kenya, after the local team leader was fired, and people didn't want to work. No great damage was done because GHF started with a modest investment, and lost $2,000. "We lost the leader because of politics," Mr. Morgan says.

A viable Iraq?

Mr. Morgan's biggest hope is that tourism will help stabilize Iraq. If people have a job, if they have a family, if they have hope for the future, they can move forward with their lives, he says. "That's true in every country where we work."

Following the Iraq Heritage Congress in June, GHF is now paying for 100 Iraqi guards to protect Sumerian sites in the south from rampant looting.

Looting is very well organized, mostly by the tribes, Mr. Morgan says. "Looters are going out in trucks and loading things up."

GHS is also supporting the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which is working with the Iraqis. Three teams created by the Congress to create master conservation plans for each site will benefit from mapping and GIS survey tools provided by GHF.

Of 16 potential world heritage sites in Iraq, the Congress focused on five as being of highest priority and most endangered. These are Hatra, Samarra, Ctesiphon, Al-Ukhaidir, and Ur.

At Ctesiphon, for example, the highest free-standing arch in the ancient world is threatened by deterioration, vandals, climbers, salt seepage, and vibrations from large military planes taking off and landing nearby.

Why not Babylon? Saddam Hussein got his hands on Babylon, Mr. Morgan says. He restored the city using modern bricks with his name on each one, and put up a big building in the middle. "He did more damage to the site than anyone," he adds. "It's a disaster."

Mr. Morgan concludes hopefully, "Iraq could be the next Egypt for tourism; in Egypt, tourism brings in $3 billion a year."

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