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Laurie W. Rush



The United States Department of Defense has had an archaeology stewardship program for over 20 years with professional archaeologists identifying and protecting archaeological sites on the military bases where they work. When news that the presence of US military forces had resulted in damage at Babylon [1] traveled around the world, many archaeologists who work for the military realized that there was a tremendous need to educate military personnel about the archaeology and cultural property of countries not only where they may engage in conflict, but also in areas of disaster response, and even in cases of military construction and participation in humanitarian aid projects. As a result, beginning with the archaeology staff at Fort Drum, New York, who also work in support of the US Army’s Tenth Mountain Division, the United States Department of Defense began a program to work on teaching US military personnel about cultural property protection [2]. The team found that for military initiatives to be successful, there had to be three components; educating soldiers, making sure that military planners knew the locations of important property like archaeological sites, museums, libraries, archives, and holy places, and that there would be laws and military rules to be followed as a requirement for protecting cultural property.

The Fort Drum team began by setting up partnerships with Colorado State University and with Dartmouth College. These partnerships began to demonstrate the importance of making academic expertise available to military personnel, and the partnership quickly expanded to include the Archaeological Institute of America and its President at the time, Brian Rose, who had already begun a Soldier lecture program on behalf of his organization. The Archaeological Institute of America was the only academic organization of social scientists that pro-actively offered support to the military during the political crises surrounding the invasion of Iraq in 2003 [3].

In contrast, there were outspoken archaeologists during this period who believed that any form of academic cooperation with the US military during the Iraq conflict was a violation of ethical conduct. In 2008, at the World Archaeological Congress, in Dublin, Ireland, there were rumors of threats against an international panel of speakers who had come to discuss their work with the military. As a result, the Irish Garda and security from University College Dublin were called to protect the amazed panel members, who were even presented with an evacuation plan. Fortunately, the extra protection was not needed, and protest was limited to rude behavior outside the session door [4].


1. Recent Progress in Military Education for Cultural Property Protection

In any case, from 2003 to the present, there has been tremendous progress in terms of military and academic partnership with the shared goal of improved protection for cultural property in crisis areas. The US, the UK, and the Netherlands have all made archaeology awareness playing cards for distribution to deploying personnel. The US alone has distributed over 150,000 decks of these cards [Figs. 1 - 2] with focus areas on Iraq, Afghanistan, and even a deck for Bright Star War Games formerly held in Egypt. The US formed the Combatant Command Cultural Heritage Action Group, known as the CCHAG, that has established heritage information websites also for Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt [5], in addition to a comprehensive cultural property protection website [6]. Other accomplishments include construction of replica archaeological sites [Fig. 3] in military field training areas; creation of opportunities to train on actual archaeological sites at Fort Drum, New York, Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, and Quantico, Virginia; development of lecture programs for military personnel of all ranks with a focus on reaching military engineers as well as civil affairs personnel; archaeological maps of Iraq and Afghanistan; and translation of the national map of Iraqi archaeological sites into English.

In the UK, the archaeologists who are primarily responsible for protection of archaeological sites listed by English Heritage that occur on the Defense Estates have also expanded their job responsibilities by constructing and offering cultural property protection scenarios for training personnel. They have even built a mobile museum that can be included during training to help soldiers and marines gain experience in situations where looting is taking place. It should also be noted that the British have also developed Operation Nightingale [7], a highly successful program where archaeological excavation experiences are offered as a form of therapy for wounded members of the military [Fig. 4].

One very important area of accomplishment for international cultural property protection includes improved coordination for inclusion of archaeological sites, museums, libraries, archives, and monuments into “no strike” lists when conflicts include aerial bombardment. In fact, participation of academic archaeologists from both the UK and the US in the development of a no strike heritage list for the recent NATO participation in the conflict in Libya resulted in absolutely minimal damage to the incredibly rich archaeological heritage of that country. This success was confirmed during two evaluation missions sponsored by the International Military Cultural Resources Working Group and the Associated National Committees for the Blue Shield [8]. The resulting positive press [9] has encouraged the US Defense Intelligence Community to continue to reach out to the academic community so that they can further emphasize protection of these important places as they archive information for future operations planning.

The CCHAG began its work with United States Central Command, which offered opportunities to discuss cultural property protection with representatives of Middle Eastern military commands, including officers from Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar. It is interesting to note that for the US, the reputation of having caused damage at an iconic place like Babylon caused a tremendous loss of respect for US military forces among their Middle Eastern counterparts. However, the opportunity to work with the former Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities to arrange for soldier awareness training at the pyramids of Saqqara [Fig. 5], the chance to discuss the issue at Jordanian environmental conferences and to introduce the subject at executive seminars following the Eagle Resolve field exercises in Abu Dhabi and Qatar has helped to demonstrate that the United States Department of Defense is trying to make a genuine commitment to do better on this issue.

In 2010, the US Army allowed this author, in her official capacity, to accept the Booth Family Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome, in order to work on improving cultural property protection curriculum for international military personnel. That opportunity enabled international lectures, conference participation, and the opportunities to meet colleagues and representatives of European military programs. One of the most productive aspects of this experience was the opportunity to observe model programs both in Austria, the Austrian Society for the Protection of Cultural Property (Österreichische Gesellschaft für Kulturgüterschutz, ÖGKGS) and in Italy, the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale or Carabinieri TPC.

The Austrian Society for the Protection of Cultural Property is an organization composed of military officers who recognize the potential contributions that cultural property protection can make for a successful mission. In addition, the Austrians also have an official classification for Cultural Property Protection officer within the list of potential assignments of responsibility. The Austrians have prepared a handbook for these officers that is currently available in German, and they are beginning to incorporate cultural property challenges into strategic training scenarios for young officers. The Austrians are also establishing an international reputation for excellence in teaching cultural property protection to military personnel with two very successful courses held at the National Defense Academy in Vienna [Fig. 6]. The first one was sponsored by UNESCO and was offered to representatives of Balkan nations, and the second one was held in cooperation with NATO.

The Carabinieri TPC is the leading art and antiquities policing force in the world. In terms of responding to crisis, their deployment to Iraq demonstrated outstanding Italian capabilities in terms of archaeological site protection, interdiction of looting, and recovery for the damage and losses at the National Museum in Baghdad. During the course of their peacekeeping mission in Nasiriyah and Dhi Qar provinces, they had completed 90 site protection missions with 60 sites inventoried, 24 helicopter missions, 302 objects recovered, 94 looters identified, and 46 looters arrested [10]. In addition, their museum project recovered looted objects, assisted with stabilization of the damaged structure and produced the database of objects still missing that can be immediately accessed by anyone at the Carabinieri TPC website [11].

In summary, military personnel approach responsibility for cultural property protection from a variety of roles. Clearly, there are tragic situations where they serve as combatants. In addition, they may enter a conflict situation in the role of peacekeepers. Very often members of the military are also among the first responders to natural disasters. Cleaning up rubble from a destroyed museum or library where there is the possibility of object recovery is a completely different process from clearing a street of office building debris. In all cases, an educated and prepared military is key. These individuals need to enter each situation with accurate maps and an awareness and background that enable them to identify the valuable cultural property around them and respond appropriately. Establishment of a military ethic with recognition of respect for cultural heritage as a core value is also important. New members of the Bosnian military, as part of their oath, pledge to never willfully damage cultural property, even when ordered to by a superior [12].


2. Additional Recommendations

There are two keys to protecting cultural property in a crisis area whether or not the crisis is natural or man made. The first is to work to establish institutional programs to insure that military combatants and/or emergency responders are thoroughly educated and have all of the information they need as discussed above. The second is capacity building at the local level. We should all be thinking not just about what our plans might be for protecting cultural property in our own communities in the event of crisis, but also about how to help community members in places that are known to be vulnerable to protect their property. In both cases, partnership with academic archaeologists and scholars is critical.


3. Capacity Building through Community Partnerships during Times of Peace

Capacity building can begin in very simple ways, sometimes as the outcome of a trusted partnership between an academic archaeological mission and a local community where an important archaeological site is located. These relationships may take years to develop and rely on respect for members of the local community on the part of the academic visitors who often come in and out over the course of many field seasons. The Belgian Mission at Artena, Italy is an excellent example. When visiting the mission in 2011, the lead archaeologists explained that for decades now, Belgian archaeologists and their students have returned to Artena year after year. They stayed in local hotels, rented space for their laboratories, purchased food locally, and have become friends with citizens of the community. The citizens began to appreciate the visitors and responded with donations of heavy equipment services for larger excavations and even provided a prominent feature of the site with a sheltering structure. When the mission is away, members of the local community watch over the site to prevent looting, sometimes even grazing animals in the vicinity. A similar relationship is evolving between a Dutch mission and a Messapian site in Puglia. At this location, members of the local community take pride in their ancient identity as Messapians and encourage visitation through community events that take place on site like concerts and athletic competitions. The Dutch mission has also partnered with and encouraged the expertise of local community members who have gone on to obtain their own advanced degrees in archaeology and whose expertise is clear as they offer tours of the excavations.

Catal Hoyuk, near Konya Turkey offers another example of capacity building and partnership. In this case, an international team of archaeologists, currently led by Ian Hodder from the UK, with substantial international funding, has partnered with members of the local community, not just in an economic relationship but also for better understanding of the nature of the site. The visitor’s center offers local perspectives and comments on what the site means and members of the community are consulted about features that are difficult to understand and asked their opinion about the archaeological discoveries. In one case, members of the community explained the technology of the Neolithic ovens to the scientists from the West. There is no question that pro-actively working with descendant populations not only can result in far more sophisticated interpretation, it helps to encourage pride, and development of local expertise for site preservation and analysis. It is interesting to note that while Catal Hoyuk stays protected and is beginning to grow in stature as a tourist destination, neighboring tumuli show evidence of looting.

Another example is a program run by the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA), located in Amelia, Umbria [Fig. 7]. A main focus of ARCA is a summer course that brings a series of international experts to Amelia to work with students on topics related to art crime ranging from the effects of war to forgery. By locating the course in an ancient and historic Umbrian hill town the students are surrounded by a community that clearly takes pride in its heritage while contributing to daily life there during their residency. As a result, the course accomplishes, in addition to its core mission of offering the classes and mentoring, the provision of immersion into heritage for the students while demonstrating the potential economic value of that same heritage to key community members. At a basic level, this relationship is a form of capacity building and results in positive connections that provide foundations for future preservation.


4. Economic Considerations

Ordinary people who are living in intact societies generally do not resort to looting their shared heritage. In Iraq, we saw the perfect storm of economic catastrophe due to international sanctions exacerbated by armed conflict. The result was the extensive looting of the ancient Mesopotamian cities in addition to the Museums. As we consider the Mesopotamian cities, one factor was that at the local level, a portion of the economy was dependent upon archaeological missions from foreign universities and institutes. Not only did these undertakings contribute to the economy through hosting faculty and students, but many of the missions also employed local personnel as laborers on the excavations. When it became too dangerous or sanctioning governments forbade participation, this contribution to the economy disappeared. Local laborers, many with extensive knowledge of the sites were left without a way to feed their children, and so many turned to looting. However, in the case of Uruk, the German Institute of Archaeology, who had a mission there, organized payment to the Altubi family who have lived and worked on the site for generations. They sent the funds via a Netherlands Cultural Property officer [13] with a US escort. As a result, the Altubis were able to continue to live in peace and the site was spared from destruction.

Clearly, it is much easier for academic archaeologists to build relationships with members of local communities over the long term. However, military archaeologists have an important role to play. In addition to their responsibilities for educating military personnel and insuring that archaeological sites are considered during the planning process, military archaeologists can contribute in a conflict or disaster zone by reaching out to host nation personnel, assessing damage, and working with military personnel to establish improved protection for cultural property.


5. Documentation

During the summer of 2012, accounts of the deliberate destruction of Islamic tombs by Islamists in the ancient city of Timbuktu, Mali, have filled the global headlines. These behaviors and the associated rhetoric immediately recall the loss of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The logical question that needs to be asked is, «In the face of religious extremism and ethnic hatred, is there any form of protective measure that can possibly be taken, especially for immovable forms of cultural heritage that cannot be hidden». One answer, and there is no question that it is not a substitute for protection and preservation, is documentation. When a valuable piece of cultural heritage is in jeopardy, it is critical that every possible detail be recorded. So, for example, in Kosovo, where Serbian Orthodox sacred sites, like the monasteries, are still at risk, in May of 2003, the Italian press reported on a Carabinieri mission headed by Lieutenant of Police Fabio Ficuciello. His mission was to «monitor the Kosovar landscape and to document the condition of cultural and artistic property in the area». He included film footage in his documentary material that was submitted to the Commanding General of the force [14].

There are several reasons why detailed documentation of this nature is critical for long term preservation. First, documentation may be a form of deterrence. For example, consider a religious sanctuary located in a remote place. If the only existing documentation consists of random family and tourist photos and obscure religious or scholarly archives, destruction of this sanctuary becomes a somewhat anonymous event. However, if a force like the Carabinieri TPC has used their expertise to document the property, the losses can be specified and the documentation used in criminal prosecution. The destruction then becomes quantified by photos and descriptions that can be shown as evidence with the ability to discuss the loss of a building dating to a specific century, of specific dimensions with interior fittings, itemized sacred relics as well as works of art. One could hope that it might be a bit less tempting to destroy a well-documented example of cultural heritage, knowing that the consequences and repercussions of that destruction may be far more negative for the perpetrators.

Good documentation also offers the possibility of reconstruction as we have seen with replacement of the sixteenth century bridge at Mostar. The bridge at Mostar was critical, not just for its historic value, but also as a symbol that literally and figuratively connected the communities on each side of the river to each other. In this case, an international inventory of images made it possible to restore the bridge stone by stone, again, not just as a physical crossing, but also as a symbol of a hope for a united healthy community in the future.


6. Preparation for Conflict

Very few tourists to Italy realize the debt of gratitude owed to the Italian people for preservation of many works of arts, monuments, and other world treasures. The Italian examples of disaster planning that include creative engineering and a tremendous amount of hard work should be used as models for other countries and localities as they consider what actions need to be taken to preserve their own cultural property. Beginning with World War I, the Italians took inventory and prioritized implementation of protective measures based not just on value but also potential risk especially in the north. Treasures like the Horses of San Marco and Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin were secured and removed from Venice for safer storage, and they protected fragile immovable features like fountains and monuments with padded temporary buildings [15]. The Italians took even more extensive precautions nation wide in preparation for the violence of World War II, with remarkable results. Ingenious protective structures took shape, so that a monument like Trajan’s column was completely encased by a protective freestanding brick structure. Another example is the sandbagging and construction of a reinforcing frame to support the wall on which Il Cenacolo, known in English as Da Vinci’s Last Supper, is painted. These prescient actions by the Italian stewards saved this masterpiece, even when the monastery in which it is located was nearly destroyed during aerial bombardment of Milan [16].

The world also owes a debt of gratitude to courageous museum personnel in Baghdad, Kabul, and Libya who sequestered collections in hidden vaults, covering entrances with concrete or welding shut access doors, and who kept locations of critical collections secret, sometimes in the face of threats and torture. Again, there are examples of curators from all over Europe facing the World Wars who hid objects and collections in remote residences, caves, and mines in order to insure their survival. Perhaps if and when Timbuktu reopens to the world, we may learn of courageous individuals who hid and saved pieces of their history and sacred objects in the face of the Islamist threat.


7. Recovery and Looking to the Future

Just as deliberate destruction of cultural property can be a powerful expression of hatred, shared goals of heritage preservation can be a powerful force for reconciliation and hope [Fig. 8]. After the playing cards were distributed for Iraq, soldiers began to send messages of thanks, one expressing the sentiment that in thinking about saving the ancient places, for the first time in his deployment he felt a measure of common interest with the Iraqi people. The UNESCO course for cultural property protection in Vienna marked the first occasion where representatives of all of the former Yugoslavian states officially agreed to meet together in the same room on any issue. When sacred objects are pulled from the rubble of a place of worship in a community destroyed by an earthquake, the citizens are offered a sign of hope that not only have they physically survived as individuals, but that eventually they will recover as a community as well. Even though most of us believe that an object is not worth a human life, we still view as heroes our friends and colleagues who have risked themselves to save heritage. As the motto of the National Museum of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan tells us, «A Nation Stays Alive When its Culture Stays Alive».


*This article was written while the author was honored to be “Writer in Residence” for the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA), Amelia, Italy, 2012, www.artcrime.info. Note that all opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the policy or position of the US Army, the Department of Defense or the US Government.



[Fig. 1] A sample of the archaeology awareness playing cards created for US military personnel.

[Fig. 2] A sample of the archaeology awareness playing cards created for US military personnel.

[Fig. 3] Replica archaeological site built for military training at Fort Drum, New York.

[Fig. 4] Scientific illustrations completed by a soldier participant in Operation Nightingale.

[Fig. 5] US military personnel participate in training at the Pyramid fields of Saqqara as guests of Zahi Hawass.

[Fig. 6] Colonel Hubert Speckner introduces the cultural property scenario to the international participants at the Austrian Defence Academy (photo Angelo Campus, Association for Research into Crimes against Art).

[Fig. 7] Conservator shares a parchment from the Amelia archives with the students of the Association of Research into Crimes against Art (photo Wesley Owen).

[Fig. 8] Sheik Altubi describes the Parthian temple at Warka to Laurie Rush.




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