Current Projects News

April 26, 2011

AIA Funds Community-Based Conservation Project in Obama’s Ancestral Homeland

Thimlich Ohinga.  Courtesy of Edward Luby.

BOSTONApril 26, 2011—The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) will fund a community-based archaeological conservation project in Luoland in southwestern Kenya.  Luoland is named for the Luo ethnic group, of which Barack Obama, Sr. was a member. 

This project will take place at the 500-year-old prehistoric site of Thimlich Ohinga and will be directed by Dr. Edward M. Luby of San Francisco State University and Dr. Isaya Onjala from National Museums of Kenya.  The magnificent monumental construction, built with unshaped stones and no mortar, served as a fortification and urban complex, and, after initial abandonment, was reused by several different groups who occupied the site until as recently as a few decades ago.  In 1981, after it was abandoned for the last time, the site was designated as a national monument by the government of Kenya.  Last year, Thimlich Ohinga was added to Kenya’s tentative list of sites for UNESCO World Heritage List nomination.

One of the project’s goals is to promote community participation in the conservation and management of the site, which currently serves as a research cultural landscape, developing educational facility, and is the only museum facility in this region of southwestern Kenya.  Responsible development of the site for tourism is part of the National Museums of Kenya’s plan to enrich the site and surrounding region as a resource for local, national, and international audiences.  The area is envisioned as a conservation center that blends culture with nature to create a one-stop tourist destination, where visitors can sample elements of eco-tourism, cultural tourism, and wildlife tourism.

The current project, with strong support from the National Museums of Kenya, expects to fully restore dilapidated wall sections; create informational and educational materials (including brochures, publications, and video documentaries); promote active community participation in the conservation and management of the site; increase the number of visitors and visiting groups (i.e. both tourists and local school groups); produce documentation of the site with clear and self-explanatory signage; and create socio-economic activities such as social meetings at the site and the sale of community handicrafts to visitors.

About AIA Site Preservation Program and Grants 

The AIA Site Preservation Program emphasizes outreach, education, and the spread of best practices in site preservation.  The Institute also supports preservation projects in Belize, Cambodia, Chile, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Syria, Turkey, Peru, and the United States.  In addition to awards and grants, the program includes advocacy to stop the destruction of archaeological sites, informs U.S. Troops of cultural materials they may encounter while deployed, presents outreach activities for children, maintains online resources for the public and professionals, and hosts workshops. All aspects of the program, including the awarding of grants, are made possible through donations to the AIA Site Preservation Program.  To learn more, please visit

About Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) 

Founded in 1879, The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is North America’s oldest and largest archaeological organization.  Today, the AIA has nearly 250,000 members belonging to 109 local societies in the United States, Canada, and overseas.  The organization promotes public interest in the cultures and civilizations of the past, supports archaeological research, fosters the sound professional practice of archaeology, and advocates for the preservation of the world’s archaeological heritage.  The organization hosts archaeological fairs, lectures and other events throughout North America; publishes Archaeology magazine and the American Journal of Archaeology; awards fellowships and honors; and leads global archaeological travel excursions. 

For more information and images please contact: 

Meredith Anderson Langlitz, AIA Site Preservation Program Coordinator—

Ben Thomas, AIA Director of Programs—

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