Monica Hanna to receive 2014 SAFE Beacon Award
The archaeologist Dr. Monica Hanna will be the next recipient of the SAFE Beacon Award for her exemplary efforts in shedding light on the looting situation in Egypt.
Home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations, Egypt has had a profound influence on the cultures of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. For centuries, Egyptian archaeological sites have been looted – most recently to feed the black market trade of antiquities. Despite valiant calls for recovery, invaluable information about Egypt’s ancient past – and our shared history – has been irretrievably lost. Since the 2011 revolution, this situation has become increasingly acute.
While mainstream media reports about the nature and extent of the damage – and those responsible for the damage – have been numerous and sometimes conflicting, we can be thankful for the efforts of “ordinary” Egyptians who have joined together to use social media to keep the rest of the world informed about what is happening to Egypt’s heritage, our shared heritage.
Using social media tools to their fullest potential, Dr. Hanna created and steadfastly maintains Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, while also contributing to other social media platforms. She continues to inform us in lectures and interviews, and she mobilizes others to do the same. In fact, it is impossible for anyone truly concerned about the critical situation in Egypt not to be informed by Dr. Hanna’s dedicated and diligent reporting. This past August, SAFE intern Beatrice Kelly included a small part of Dr. Hanna’s documentation in “How much looting needs to happen before we start to think twice?” and noted:
Indefatigable Egyptian archaeologist Monica Hanna has been single-handedly exposing an incredible amount of looting in Egypt, even going so far as to confront some of the armed looters herself.
And we are paying attention.
With more than than 20,000 followers on Twitter, Dr. Hanna is an inspiration. No wonder Betsy Hiel of the Tribune-Review writes, “Hanna is a leader in exposing the looting of Egyptian antiquities.” Nigel Hetherington of Past Preservers describes her as, “amazing …a revolutionary in the true sense of the word.”
SAFE is honored to present the 2014 Beacon Award to Monica Hanna. In the coming months, we will continue to highlight Dr. Hanna’s important work and roll out our plans for celebration. Please follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.
The SAFE Beacon Awards recognizes outstanding achievement in raising public awareness about our endangered cultural heritage and the devastating consequences of the illicit antiquities trade. Since 2004, awards have been presented to authors, journalists, professors, law enforcement professionals, and archaeologists:
2004 – Roger Atwood
2005 – Matthew Bogdanos
2006 – Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini
2008 – Neil Brodie and Donny George
2009 – Colin Renfrew
2010 – Robert Goldman, David Hall, James McAndrew, and Robert Wittman
2011 - Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino
2012 – David Gill
Archaeology for non-archaeologists (like myself)
Recently I had the challenge of talking about the damage of tomb raiding upon cultural heritage to a general audience. In order to present my ideas in a clear, concise and didactic way, I used a particular comparison which comes out of my work as a criminologist and a criminal defense attorney: in a nutshell, how an archaeological dig is comparable to a crime scene.
When introducing the risks of archaeological looting to a general audience, one first must understand the conception people have about archaeology and archaeologists. Sometimes, this mental image can be an authentic misconception. This also happens with criminologists –if you knew how many times, after telling someone I do not know that I am a criminologist to I get the “So you are a CSI, huh?”– or other professions where media images have distorted the reality.
Police (Mossos d’Esquadra) investigation of a crime scene in Catalonia
In that sense, people who still have an idea of the archaeologist wearing a fedora hat and holding a whip, usually have a more Hollywood-style conception of archaeology, in which not only is the archaeologist a valiant athlete who fights tribes, traps and tribulations, but someone who embarks on a treasure hunt in order to get a one-of-a-kind artifact which will (no doubt) be labeled as a spectacular find. In sum, an archaeology which is object driven and in which the archaeologist is a collector him/herself.
Nothing further than the truth. Real archaeology is not so much object-driven as information-driven. Archaeology is a science that has the goal of enriching the knowledge of our past through the study of remnants, whatever these may be: skeletons, coins, textile, jewelry, architectural remnants…
Archaeologists working in a dig in Catalonia, Spain
D.G. Patrimoni Cultural – Jordi Play
In real archaeology, there are three very important elements that are essentially interconnected: the find, its context and its sense. In other words, the site of the find is at least as important as the find itself. For an archaeologist, therefore, it is essential not only to assess what object has been found but also what has been moved or taken.
In that sense, it is very easy to draw parallels between an archaeological dig and a crime scene investigation where the haste is not welcomed. Just imagine a detective à la Indiana Jones, touching everything and leaving his fingerprints everywhere. The ‘good’ detective, like the real archaeologist, looks for information about what happened at the crime scene by studying what remains behind in the crime scene and how those remains are placed –again, the importance of the context.
However, every day, looters in different parts of the world ignore that very easy to grasp comparison and destroy the remnants of our shared past at an alarming pace. Of course, their motivations are radically different from those of archaeologists and seem very hard to change. But, people from different fields and organizations like SAFE, in raising awareness of this issue, try to inform a wider audience of the perils of the destruction of the non-replaceable cultural heritage. Many people are still not aware of the risks facing our cultural heritage. If simple comparisons like the one I presented here help more people understand the work of real archaeologists and bring attention to this problem, so much the better!
SAFE bulletin to feature selected news and opinion
Since 2006, SAFE’s e-newsletter news&updates has been alerting our subscribers to matters related to cultural heritage preservation, upcoming SAFE events, and new developments in the organization. Beginning this issue at the end of each month, news&updates will again feature our own selection of relevant news articles and reports highlighting some of today’s most pressing concerns in the fight against looting and the illicit trade of antiquities and cultural heritage.
We understand that the abundance of articles, news reports, and commentaries frequently and readily available on the Internet can become overwhelming. But not all content is created equal. To help you navigate through the information overload, we will cull from news reports and contributions from the SAFE community to deliver what we consider the most relevant and valuable in the monthly news&updates. With this bulletin, SAFE takes another step towards achieving our mission to raise public awareness about the importance of preserving cultural heritage worldwide.
So stay informed and subscribe to news&updates. And, as always, please feel free to share you own news and reports and let us know if we missed anything. For daily news and reports, visit SAFE on Facebook and Twitter. We thank intern Michael Shamah for this inaugural bulletin:
In the News
Penalties imposed on two amateur German archaeologists (Ahram Online) – Egypt’s antiquities ministry imposes penalties on two German amateur archaeologists who stole samples of King Khufu’s cartouche from the great pyramid.
Aussie leads Project to measure Iraq’s heritage destruction (SBS) – A 3-year project to “create the world’s first database of those damaged heritage sites and create a path to restore what can be restored.”
Peru thwarts antiquities smugglers (Latino Fox News) – Pre-Columbian textiles were discovered under a glass frame of family photos, while en route to Spain.
How did the US lose voting rights in UNESCO, and why? (IB Times) – What does this mean for Cultural Heritage?
Stolen religious artefacts have been repatriated (Cyprus Mail) – “The majority of artefacts were in relatively good condition although some bore clear signs of vandalism.”
Tutankhamun’s sister goes missing – Egypt issues international alert (Telegraph UK) – Egypt issues an international alert for return of a beautiful statuette of Tutankhamun’s sister, stolen with hundreds of other artefacts, when the Malawi Museum was looted amid clashes between police and Islamists this summer.
Antiquities Authority arrests looter attempting to steal buried Byzantine-era coins (J post) – Judean Mountains have now become recent targets for coin looters.
‘Make sure your collections traded legally’ (Korea Times) – Korean officials say that most of 150,000 cultural properties are outside Korea. They were looted and traded illegally during the Korean War or Japanese colonial rule.
Myanmar Buddha sculpture returns home after wild ride (CS Monitor) – An 11th-century Buddha was returned to Myanmar, after 20 years abroad. SE Asian countries, including Myanmar and Cambodia, have been trying reclaim cultural artefacts from the West through legal battles.
Cornell to return 10,000 ancient tablets to Iraq (LA Times) – One of the largest returns of antiquities by an American Institution
The latest on SAFE blog
Plumbing the Depths of the “Shadow Economy”: Reflections of an Antiquities Trade Scholar at an Organized Crime Workshop - Damien Huffer’s summary of proceedings, explores the connections between the areas of criminological practice and the antiquities trade.
Introducing Confrontations - Confrontations invites friends and members of the SAFE community to share their firsthand experiences, whether through personal accounts, pictures, or photographic essays. Tell us what happened: What did you do?
Confrontations #1: A Young Boy’s Temptation - The first of the ‘Confrontations’ blog series, about Michael’s encounter with a pile of excavated coins in the marketplace of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Ton Cremers and the Museum Security Network: A SAFE tribute - Long before social media, there was the Museum Security Network; but most of all, the pioneer spirit of its founder Ton Cremers.
Egyptian Ambassador: A critical challenge for cultural preservation - A post at the request of the Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik Ambassador: “As popular institutions, simply engaging your audience can be a first step to help stop the theft of Egyptian antiquities.”
Plumbing the Depths of the “Shadow Economy”: Reflections of an Antiquities Trade Scholar at an Organized Crime Workshop
On the 12th November, I attended a very special workshop, held at the stunning Stamford Plaza hotel in Brisbane, Australia. Hosted by both CEPS (Centre for Excellence in Policing and Security) and the ASMF (Australian Security Medals Foundation), it brought together a number of regional and international experts from academia, law enforcement, INTERPOL, police forces, and private security businesses.
With the aim of “exploring a range of issues relating to the nature and extent of illicit trade/intellectual property crime and law enforcement,” this post will summarize proceedings and, most importantly, explore connections between these areas of criminological practice and the seemingly “tangential” study of the antiquities trade. As was emphasized by the first presenter (Srgt. David Lake, Phoenix, AZ police), we are all part of the same over-arching “shadow economy.”
The workshop opened with what was, to me, a very fitting analogy. Mr. Rod Cowan, of the private security firm SecurityIsYourBusiness, began by poignantly revealing that he had stage 4 cancer! Why? Well, because as he himself has been experiencing, with diligence, treatment, and intervention, one can bolster their immune system to defeat, or at least keep in check, a ‘sickness’ even that severe.
By extension, he related that at an INTERPOL conference on organized crime/security last year, he just so happened to be the only Australian in the room, and when a map highlighting which countries had the most recent cases/highest rates of theft, Australia didn’t even appear.
“Either this means that Australia is doing everything right….or that people aren’t paying nearly enough attention.”
The take home message here, worth sharing, was that those of us gathered in the room (security specialists, academics, lawyers, criminologists, INTERPOL legal reps, former undercover agents, etc.) should see ourselves as “society’s immune system,” there to monitor and expose the illicit “shadow economies” that are costing many industries untold amounts of money, as well as jeopardizing the world’s cultural and biological heritage. Although the focus of the workshop was the Australian region, the lessons and information shared have worldwide applications.
Srgt. David Lake, Phoenix Police Department, discussing the “shadow economy in counterfeit goods.
To begin with, Srgt. David Lake of the Phoenix PD gave an informative talk on what he called ‘economics based policing’, and how the aforementioned “shadow economy” affects us all. Regardless of the type of illicit activity being encountered, it was stressed that we must find new ways to respond as fast as perpetrators (if ever possible…), and react before violence and massive increases in ill-gotten gains reveal themselves as “symptoms.” Giving examples from the US/Mexico border, he detailed how cartels are moving into the counterfeit goods racket (organized commercial crime), with profits as much as 600% greater than the already staggering amounts gained from narco-trafficking.
If the legitimate economy holds that the customer is always right, then the task of all criminal syndicates from the demand end is to divert them (us) into participating in this “shadow economy.” What was so illuminating to me is that his talk, and others, brought the perspectives of once/former business owners and police to mind.
What does the shadow economy comprise of? Everything from untaxed labor to kickbacks, counterfeits, IP theft, fraud, e-crime, drugs, illegal gambling, the sex trade, and of course wildlife and antiquities.
As a store owner turned cop, he allegedly understood all about the logistics required to move products in bulk onto the licit market, and thus made it abundantly clear that criminals who could, for example, move 18,000 stolen lobsters in 12 hours in the US, or collectively rob 3.5 trains/day in Mexico, would already have markets identified. Thus, it is crucial, he emphasized, that we “stop it at the marketplace,” as “once it’s out of legitimate supply, we’ve lost…”
People decide to traffic in stolen goods for a number of reasons, primarily involving feeling overly regulated or taxed by the rules of the licit market. In Australia, according to Srgt. Lake, the shadow economy now exceeds 15%, and is substantially greater in the US, Mexico, parts of Europe, etc. Apparently, if all counterfeit production was stopped globally, the economies of 60 countries (!) would collapse. From the law enforcement side, better understanding and monitoring “market re-entry points” at local and global scales is vital.
Mr. Philip Flogel, of NSW Fair Trading continued discussions around themes of the effects of the “shadow economy” on the legitimate economy and consumer safety, by initially discussing the synthetic drug market and that, even though all such products are currently banned under fair trade laws and the number of cases in hard-hit towns like Newcastle are down, forensic toxicologists can barely keep up with identification. Other examples of more local scams and crimes that exploit consumer demand via the creation of false markets include a recent rash of “driveway repair” scams in the US and elsewhere, internet fraud (suggestion to antiquities trade scholars: if a dealer ONLY has online purchase available, take special notice), and of course, counterfeit clothing.
As Mr. Flogel, and the next speaker, Mr. Ken Taylor (Trademark Investigation Services), profits from counterfeit brand-name clothing appear to be skyrocketing in Australia and beyond, despite numerous laws in place, and much media attention when raids are conducted on market stalls. The hiring of private security companies to investigate such cases has markedly increased over the last few years, in part due to Australian legislation that allows anything with a declared value of $1,000 or less automatically gets through Customs with no GST (unless the package is visibly dripping blood or ticking, perhaps…). In the case of counterfeit clothing, make-up, etc., storage space needs for goods seized can be substantial, and (alas) cases can take years to reach trial. Both speakers on this topic stressed that much more cooperation is needed between investigators, security firms, and law enforcement on all scales.
Australian Customs agents inspect a counterfeit goods seizure. Brisbane, 2009.
Following on from this, Ms. Julie Ayling, from RegNet, at the ANU, gave an interesting talk on what’s called “TEC,” or Transnational Environmental Crime. This can involve everything from illicit polluting, timber trafficking, illegal fishing, and of course the wildlife trade; with a combined estimate of $31 billion/yr (?) Hard to know, really…
Like counterfeiting or the antiquities trade, TEC also represents a “poly-crime,” i.e. run by organized and well-financed criminal networks who also dabble in other trades (e.g. Irish groups robbing rhino horns from museums, dealing drugs, doing driveway repaving scams, etc.).
As was pointed out, TEC is an “economic” crime as well, given how difficult it has been to prevent poaching from the supply end, lingering corruption issues, and the losses to “source” countries that suffer diminished chances for wildlife tourism. Parallels between this and potential lost cultural heritage/archaeology tourism revenues in countries affected by the antiquities trade are readily apparent.
The final speaker during the morning session was Dr. Rick Brown, of the Australian Institute of Criminology. His talk provided a very unique perspective; presenting the findings of qualitative and quantitative research investigating small stolen goods markets “at street level” using qualitative and quantitative data solicited from 3-4,000 detainees for drug offences in four cities. The most important information to come from this data, in my opinion, are that we must not underestimate the role of informal networks and dealers themselves when it comes to moving small-scale portable goods (whether that be antiquities or burgled computers).
Dr. Rick Brown, Australian Institute of Criminology: Don’t underestimate the role of informal networks!
In this study, locally available drugs in each city allegedly decreased over time, but results suggested that users who steal were having to steal more and convert more to cash within their own informal networks to afford their habit.
Here, demand reduction in one area (drugs) does not necessarily mean less crime or effective outreach.
This seems to be mirrored in the antiquities trade, where increased apprehension and confiscation of larger pieces has begun to translate into greater due diligence performed by all market actors, but the trade in smaller items along more informal networks remains confounding.
The final three speakers of the day consisted of Prof. Duncan Chappell (Faculty of Law, University of Sydney), Ms. Rosella Mangion (INTERPOL legal rep), and Sir Ronnie Flanagan (former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, now advisee to British American Tobacco over the illicit cigarette trade). Prof. Chappell’s talk was more or less what he and I presented at the Protection of Cultural Property in Asia conference in February this year. As our research into Australian and Southeast Asian antiquities markets continues, we can increasingly argue that market reduction is a sound approach. Of course, market reduction in the absence of (questionably effective) sanctions will make no further progress without further outreach.
Ms. Mangion further clarified the role of INTERPOL in the fight against illicit traffic of all kinds, noting especially that a trafficking charge must be an offence in both the source and demand country involved, but that it is up to us (since INTERPOL is not a police force) to “think like prosecutors” while investigations occur.
Given that all aspects of the diverse “shadow economy” involves both actors and facilitators, and that treaties in place currently are all either criminal law, trade-specific, or country-specific in focus, it was argued that greater operational cooperation was needed to watch for “unexplained wealth” (especially given poorly regulated on-line dealing).
Efforts to better ID, trace, freeze and confiscate the proceeds gained by all illicit trades will rob them of their power. This was driven home in Sir Flanagan’s talk about the international illicit tobacco trade, operating on a HUGE scale. Allegedly, we’re talking billions of dollars, millions of illicit cigarettes/shipment, multiple Western markets (including Australia) from sources in Asia, and marked increases in violence. It was all encapsulated in the story of a Loyalist crime lord (rose to prominence during the Troubles) who in recent years was posing as an unemployed laborer collecting welfare, but in reality was organizing “hits,” living large, etc. Nearly untouchable and untraceable, until connections to the cigarette racket allowed authorities to follow the money and seize assets.
At the end of the day, we were all divided into groups to discuss and then give feedback on a few key thematic questions/priorities; a way to pool our combined experiences and look for common ground in light of new info. Questions such as: How can investigators and academics better leverage the private sector (i.e. security industry)? What do the police/government agents want more of? How can the private sector better engage in outreach? What aspects of the shadow economy does the private sector see changing in future? How so? It all relates back to what Mr. Rowan and Mr. Lake pointed out; if we are to be society’s immune system, we must be strong and well informed enough to stay ahead of the symptoms!
One obvious requirement is more production and routine use of visual guides (e.g. ICOM Red Lists) for not only more source countries in the antiquities trade, but also species smuggling, and even counterfeit products. With the skills of counterfeiters, forgers and smugglers getting so advanced and high-tech, the “arms race” (if you will) is still far too lopsided. We were also of the opinion that fostering of subject matter experts outside of the investigative/law enforcement community is vital; especially if those experts (e.g. academic archaeologists, biologists, museologists, etc.) are given permission to tap into their colleagues’ expertise.As I suggested when I spoke, if we’re up against such complex poly-crime networks, then we have to fight fire with fire and create much wider networks of individuals able to identify, investigate and monitor.
Watching the shadow economy…all together now?
Finally, another obvious conclusion to come from the day’s proceedings was the need for more effective outreach in all areas of illicit trade prevention. I know, I know…easier said than done. And yet, I feel that the need still exists in many areas of the shadow economy to transition from a situation of licit markets hijacked or flooded by illicit goods and/or dealer’s communities with voluntary codes of ethics (propped up by a lingering no-questions-asked trade) to one in which increased awareness by buyers and sellers makes the dealer community more willing to self-police, thus lessening the work of investigative journalists and law enforcement.
Although those scant few of us working on illicit trades outside the purview of drugs and IP might have felt a bit tangential considering the rest of the delegates, I remain honoured to have participated, and do feel that everyone learned from everyone else. As always, the test now is to see how much lasting collaboration comes from it. However, I feel confident that workshops such as this help to ensure that Australia and its region continue to improve on what we’re doing right, and certainly not be ignored on the world stage for much longer.
Have you ever witnessed the destruction or vandalism of an ancient site? Noticed a museum object that was improperly labeled? Been to a site that is clearly being disturbed by tourist activity? Seen an object in an antiques shop that shouldn’t be there? Has anyone tried to sell you suspect “souvenirs”?
Encounters like these can take place anywhere, from the classroom to the museum to the annual family vacation. Expertise in archaeology isn’t necessary for us to feel what is often a resounding impact from these experiences.
It is with this in mind that SAFE introduces Confrontations, a new blog series dedicated to highlighting your stories and bringing to light the irreversible damage that results from looting and the illicit trade of cultural heritage.
Confrontations invites friends and members of the SAFE community to share their firsthand experiences, whether through personal accounts, pictures, or photographic essays. Tell us what happened: What did you do?
Be sure to check out the first of our Confrontations series, with a post by SAFE’s Winter intern, Michael Shamah, and what he decided to do when confronted with a pile of excavated coins in the marketplace of Sharm el-Sheikh…
Confrontations: A Young Boy’s Temptation
SAFE blog’s new series “Confrontations” invites everyone to share firsthand experiences with looting and the illicit antiquities trade. These personal accounts will illustrate the on-going problems of these issues within a global context.
When I was young, before I gained an interest in archaeology and the ancient world, my knowledge of artefacts was merely limited to the Indiana Jones Trilogy. Though having such knowledge at a young age was purely overwhelming, especially for a young boy like myself in a country enriched with an ancient past spanning over thousands of years, it understandably got me into a lot of trouble.
Till this day, I still look back to the 1990s, when I nearly ventured into the sinister world of the illicit antiquities trade, with conflicting thoughts of morality. For a person trying to feed his or her family, on one side, there is sympathy for the person’s actions. However, on the other, there is real pent-up anger towards that person as he or she is either destroying or illegally selling what represents a valuable past that we can truly learn from.
Now, you are wondering what happened to me back in the 90s…? How did I nearly enter the uncharted waters of such illicitness that has haunted me to this present day?
It all happened during the summer holidays, when my family decided to travel to Egypt for two weeks. Unlike being expected to visit Cairo, explore the pyramids of Giza and the Valley of the Kings, and perhaps take a relaxing boat ride down the Nile river, we ended up in Sharm el-Sheikh that, for us Brits, was a stereotypically ideal place for a family vacation.
A recent photography of the entrance to Sharm el-Sheikh’s Old Market, Egypt
Flickr user Kareny13 (taken: 25/11/2010)
During our time, we went to Sharm el-Sheikh’s infamous old market on numerous occasions. The market was infused with a magical eastern vibe, various smells of spices and incense, Arabic music, and the haggling of goods, and it made me feel like I was in sheer heaven. With the exception of seeing dead carcasses dangling on every rack, there was one particular part of the market that ended my blissful experience.
Hidden away in the distance, I remember seeing an outline of this rugged man standing next to a stall with a large quantity of ancient coins. These coins looked as if though they had been recently removed from the ground… Though my Indiana Jones knowledge of artefacts proved to be limited, all I saw were these coins being beautifully displayed on this decaying wooden table.
Immediately, my whole body froze. Alarm bells were ringing. Warning signs were gathering in my head, trying to pull me away from the absolute power of these coins that continuously sparkled in my day-dreamt eyes. Yet like a child being let loose in a sweet shop, there was an irresistible urge to personally own such artefacts. This desire also lifted me off my feet, like a person floating off towards the mouth-watering smell of a delicious meal, and, within a matter of seconds, I found myself face to face with the very man who was standing right next to this collection of coins.
He appeared to be frail looking– shabbily dressed but presentable enough to look like a respectable business man. Suddenly, this man began to talk. At first, it was very unclear as to what exactly he was saying. He spoke in a mixture of Arabic and broken English, asking me if I wanted to buy priceless coins that had historical and archaeological significance.
“Hlan wa sahlan! Kayfa Halak? Taf-fadal! Special price! Coins came earlier today for you my friend. What do you want?”
At this time, I was gob-smacked. Was this man talking to me? Was I that special someone to whom he was offering a special price…? I looked around and saw that I was the only bystander facing his direction. How could this be? Why were other people purposely avoiding this man?
Obviously, there were many reasons behind this. One could have been that that he was coming from outside the city, and therefore the locals did not know him. Another reason could have been that he was a dodgy character selling illegal artefacts, and it was thus unwise to get involved in his business.
As a young boy, it was likely that my understanding of the illicit antiquities trade was non-existent. I had never had a confrontation like that before in my life– not until that day. If I had bought a coin from that man, who knows what could have happened to me. According to Egyptian law (1983 LPA), all antiquities – be they cultural, historical or archaeological – are strictly regulated and actually owned by the State; and if I was caught red-handed by a police officer, I could have gone to prison for my involvement, and I would not have a great life ahead of me.
While those very thoughts were in my mind, I felt a heavy hand placed on my right shoulder. My shadow began to amplify, and a low voice began to speak out from nowhere.
“Michael!…Stop what you are doing Shamah Junior! You are meddling with powers you cannot possibly comprehend!”
Without a doubt, I recognised that quote from one of the Indiana Jones Trilogies, The Raiders of the Lost Ark… (The best Indian Jones film that was ever made, I must say), and I knew exactly who it was.
I looked round and saw my father, looking stereotypically Middle Eastern with an Arab moustache, his big body with broad shoulders, and with very tanned skin; indeed, he was known for using film quotes in his sentences.
Without a word, I was tugged away, leaving this unfortunate man behind, not knowing where he would be in the course of time.
Me at a young age, back in the 1990s
As stated earlier, I still look back to that exact scene in Sharm el-Sheikh’s old market. In addition, you will find me exploring and dealing with similar confrontations in the upcoming blogs– especially those regarding the desecrations of various sites, or, as in this particular instance, a confrontation with a person selling a priceless artefact which has “illegal” written all over it.
Since this first experience, I have had conflicting thoughts, a broader understanding of the illicit world, and I am better at recognising potential signs of looting or at least something illicit. As an archaeologist, I have begun to care more about the preservation of cultural heritage, and it has been rather upsetting to think of how sites which convey significant cultural and historical meaning, have been affected by human activity. Although in the eyes of some, these actions might be considered as a good thing… It is now understandable why these motives take place.
Especially in an unstable Middle East – which I am quite familiar with, due to my heritage and the focusing of my speciality in this specific region – and for sectarian, political or economic reasons, countless sites have, unfortunately, been targeted. Nevertheless, as seen from my first encounter, there are some sheer beauties of the past that attract potentially irrational visitors who may just want to fill their pockets.
From what consequently ends up in the illicit antiquities trade, this beautiful memorabilia of the past has become absorbed into a sinister world which is loathed by most of us.
Thus, I would like to end this blog with the very questions that hang in the back of my mind.
What were the motives behind the act? Were they rational?
But also, what may be seen as an act for survival or greed and is believed by some as a person’s worst nightmare, it may sequentially be seen by others as a heavenly treasure trove.
If you have had similar experiences that you would like to share, it would be great to hear from you; and for my next shareable experience…Stay tuned.
Ton Cremers and the Museum Security Network: A SAFE tribute
Long before social media the tools: news feeds, Facebook, blogs, twitter, etc. there was Museum Security Network (MSN) the effort: the thinking, the initiative, and most of all, the pioneer spirit of its founder Ton Cremers.
Nearly two decades ago, MSN started using the still nascent Internet technology to its best potential, gathering the latest and most reliable news and reports on art theft, looting and the illicit antiquities trade from around the world all in one place, and presented them to anyone with a computer. At no cost. As we all became more aware, we continued to depend on MSN’s listserv, which remains the only one of its kind for its completeness, promptness and reliability. In fact, it became such a ubiquitous presence for our growing community that recent news of its closing came as a shock. While the group remains, MSN is closed.
While all who are seriously interested in these issues recognize the contribution of MSN and Ton Cremers, no tribute would be complete without the acknowledgement of the fact that MSN was much more than a mere aggregator. MSN was a keeper of content others collected from parts of the world where the exposure of such information could be hazardous. If a web site was taken down by dictatorial authorities, Ton was there to ensure the content will be kept safe. Through the insight and diligence of Ton Cremers, there are also original investigative reports and analyses, such as the case of the Mask of Ka Nefer Nefer which this blog also covered here. Ton also helped increase exposure to the work of others who were similarly inspired and concerned.
In the days of social media when sharing any news is all too easy, Ton Cremer’s efforts should never be forgotten. Without MSN’s daily delivery many of us would have had less content to draw from, our lectures and events would have had smaller attendance, and our blog posts fewer readers. For SAFE, the organization founded by and for members of the public, its work would have been nearly impossible. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of our founding, we applaud MSN and Ton Cremers with gratitude and humility.
We owe a huge debt to MSN and Ton Cremers, without whose contribution, we might still remain in the “dark ages” regarding these damaging threats to our shared heritage, except for those few members of academia and journalists.
Egyptian Ambassador: A critical challenge for cultural preservation
The following is posted at the request of the Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Tawfik.
Many of you have been instrumental in launching unforgettable exhibitions that explored Egypt’s rich history. Thanks to you, millions of Americans have a special relationship with and fascination for my country’s unique contribution to human civilization, shaped over the course of generations. So many young minds have been stimulated by these exhibits with questions of who are these people and how did they create this? For our children’s sake, we need to keep these experiences and opportunities accessible to everyone.
Considering your interest in preserving and promoting Egypt’s cultural heritage, I wanted to share with you a recent article written for the Washington Post by Egypt’s Minister for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim. In it, he called on the United States and its citizens to help Egypt combat theft of historical and archaeological treasures, a worrisome trend exacerbated by Egypt’s current security situation. He also requests vigilance from auction houses and other cultural institutions that may come across suspect items. Minister Ibrahim reminds us all that, “It is our common duty, in Egypt and around the world, to defend our shared heritage.”
I would welcome your thoughts on how we, as a community that cares about Egypt’s treasures, can raise awareness of these tragic incidents and prevent further harm. I would also encourage you to spread the word about antiquities thefts through social media. As popular institutions, simply engaging your audience can be a first step to help stop the theft of Egyptian antiquities.
Should you have any questions in this matter, don’t hesitate to email the embassy at Culturalheritage@egyptembassy.net
Thank you again for your dedication to the people, history and culture of Egypt at this especially sensitive moment.
Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt
SAFE closes 2013 global awareness campaign with gratitude
SAFE would like to thank you for joining and participating in the 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage, marking the tenth anniversary of the looting of the National Museum of Iraq and the subsequent founding of our organization.
The amount of insightful stories, shared reflections, and heartfelt comments that we have received over the past six months has truly been remarkable. To be able to highlight your efforts in preserving cultural heritage and to hear so many of you share your thoughts on the fight against looting and the illicit antiquities trade has been not only a pleasure, but also an inspiration.
Together, our combined efforts unite us in honoring the memory of Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, whose call to action spurred the very first of SAFE’s Global Candlelight Vigil in 2007. Since then, it has been most inspiring to observe and showcase the many ways you have all observed our Global Candlelight Vigil. To be sure, this year—a momentous one marking the ten-year anniversary of the looting of the National Museum in Iraq, as well as the founding of SAFE—has been no exception.
Indeed, this year’s global campaign truly sparked a global response, with virtual candles lit in over 100 cities from more than 30 countries across the world. We are indebted to each and every one of you who participated in the Vigil and we would like to thank you. Among the many individuals who participated, we would also like to extend a personal thank you to those who contributed their stories and shared their reflections with us on our website and on our Facebook page under the theme of “10 YEARS AFTER.”
- The Archaeological Institute of America
- Roger Atwood
- Deanna Baker
- Marc Balcells
- Cynthia Bates
- Ben Furnival
- Lucy Blake-Elahi
- Neil Brodie
- Claudia Brose
- Annalisa Cicerchia
- Juan Cole
- Dillon de Give
- Nathan Elkins
- Marsha Fulton
- Senta German
- Steven George
- Melissa Halverson
- Abdulamir Hamdani
- Susan Whitfield Harding
- Matthew Hu
- Damien Huffer
- Beatrice Kelly
- James McAndrew
- Mary Montgomery
- Oscar Muscarella
- Bodil Nilsson
- Past Preservers
- Rick Pettigrew
- Matthew Piscitelli
- Clemens Reichel
- Colin Renfrew
- Sandra Roorda
- Lucille Roussin
- Rabbi Barnea Levi Selavan
- Ann Shaftel
- Diane Siebrandt
- Dean Snyder
- Howard Spiegler
- Jeff Spurr
- Rene Teijgeier
- Marni Walter
- Peter Watson
With the 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage now at a close, we would still like to invite you to share your thoughts regarding the preservation of cultural heritage and, if you haven’t already done so, light a virtual candle to show your support. While the deadline for submissions to our initiative, “10 YEARS AFTER,” has passed, there is no deadline for you to publicize your reflections or present your thoughts on our website or via social media.
For us at SAFE, one of the most gratifying ways to celebrate this tenth anniversary and continue the fight against looting and the illicit antiquities trade is seeing us all come together as a community and take a stand. SAFE looks forward to continuing this journey together and working to preserve our collective right to cultural heritage. Thank you again for both your commitment and your involvement.
Syria’s cultural heritage in danger: What can we do?
SAFE Volunteer Sandra Roorda observes the 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage with a reflection on the situation in Syria.
Amidst the public and political clamor surrounding the current conflict in Syria, and as many argue over how to prevent further civilian casualties, a wide swathe of cultural institutions and organizations from both diplomatic and NGO communities has stepped forward to warn that, in addition, the country’s rich cultural heritage is being looted and destroyed. As Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments Fund states, “The evolving tragedy in Syria has a deep cultural, as well as a humanitarian, dimension.” To be sure, the conflict in Syria is destroying not only the lives of the Syrian people, but it is also stripping them of their cultural identity and their cultural heritage, resulting in a loss felt not only by the Syrian people, but also by the world at large.
World Heritage Sites in Danger
The conflict in Syria, now in its third year, has devastated the country’s cultural heritage, with UNESCO reporting that 93% of the country’s total cultural sites are currently within areas of conflict and displacement. Furthermore, of Syria’s 46 primary heritage sites, six have been categorized as World Heritage in Danger sites, with some structures already destroyed or seriously damaged by shelling or looting. Indeed, recent aerial footage also reveals several of these sites to be pockmarked with holes—the token remnants of looters excavating cultural objects and antiquities.
Damage caused by looting and vandalism at a museum in Aleppo.
UNESCO and Professor Abdulkarim
Currently listed as in danger by UNESCO are the Ancient City of Aleppo, the Ancient City of Bosra, the Ancient City of Damascus, the site of Palmyra, Cracs des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din, and the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria. Of course, countless other sites and structures that lend to Syria’s rich cultural heritage have also been damaged and are further threatened by continued fighting—the breadth of which is perhaps demonstrated by the World Monument Fund’s recent decision to list all of the cultural heritage sites within the entire country of Syria as part of its 2014 World Monuments Watch.
The Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk
ICOM’s Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk.
UNESCO and the World Monument Fund are hardly the only organizations—cultural or otherwise—adding or connecting Syria to an endangered list. In an event last month at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) officially released The Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk.
Held during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly and attended by members of both diplomatic and NGO communities, the event served to raise awareness surrounding the issues of preserving Syria’s cultural heritage by specifically outlining the categories and typologies of cultural artifacts and goods most vulnerable to illicit trafficking during the conflict. Indeed, the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM) has reported a dramatic increase of illegal excavations of archeological sites and increased looting of museums in Syria, with the threat of illicit trafficking and trade of cultural property on the rise. As Anna Paolini, head of the Jordan office of UNESCO states, “In light of previous experiences in situations of conflict, with respect to cultural heritage, the risk of looting and illicit trafficking of Syrian cultural objects appears to be high.”
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and supported by UNESCO, ICOM’s Emergency Red List aims to help counteract illicit trafficking by not only categorizing the types of objects most at risk, but by also providing a succinct guide for museums, auction houses, art dealers, and collectors on how to facilitate the identification of potentially stolen or looted items, and which subsequent authorities to inform. The publication covers a wide spectrum of artifacts and antiquities, categorizing writing, figural sculpture, vessels, architectural elements, accessories and instruments, stamps and cylinder seals, and tessera and coins.
Joining in the announcement of the Emergency Red List, Assistant Secretary of States for Population, Refugees, and Migrations, Anne Richard, stated:
“The situation, clearly, is critical, not only for the survival of the Syrian people, but the heritage they cherish. Wherever one goes in Syria, one finds monuments from the past around every corner. Ancient religious edifices are still in use for daily observances. Historic homes provide shelter. Archaeological sites were—in better times—a place to visit, appreciate, and even have picnics. They are part of the fabric of Syrian life—a source of pride and self-definition for their present and future. Today, with the release of the Red list, we take an important step in helping Syrians preserve this unique and priceless cultural heritage. We are monitoring the situation there closely. And we are engaging internationally with national police, customs officials, ministries of culture, and other relevant entities in countries where Syrian cultural objects might transit and where these objects might find a market.”
Richard goes on to call on the international community to remain vigilant for looted and trafficked Syrian cultural objects and to refrain from purchasing or acquiring such objects.
UNESCO reports that, “Volunteer networks from local communities all over the country have mobilized themselves and come together with a common objective to protect their cultural heritage. These networks provide additional security in protecting archaeological sites from illegal excavations, and safeguarding museums from looters.
Photo via UNESCO and ICOM
Further attempts to counteract the illicit traffic and trade of Syria’s cultural heritage include the digitization of the remaining inventory and archives of cultural property in Syrian museums, in order to simplify the identification and the registration of any missing artifacts. Additional testimonies, images, and videos from the public, as well as from various national and international archaeological and heritage-based initiatives, are assisting in these digitized databases. As UNESCO states, “All this collated information will facilitate a more effective response against the illicit trafficking of cultural property out of Syria, and help potential restitution cases in the future.”
A Call to Action: Syria and the International Community
Attempts to combat the looting of Syrian antiquities and counteract their illicit trade are made difficult and further complicated for a variety of reasons, not least of which are due to the literal combat taking place on the ground.
That the continual fighting of the ongoing conflict in Syria renders site protection on the ground difficult and often thwarts attempts to protect the country’s cultural heritage brings to light what some may view as the apparent limitations of such international agreements as the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
Participants at the Damascus National Museum, involved in the e-learning course, Protection of Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict.
ICCROM and Lina Kutifan, DGAM
That being said, there are a number of efforts—both coordinated and individual, and implemented by both diplomatic and NGO communities—that are taking place to address the looting and the subsequent potential for the illicit sale of Syrian antiquities. While fighting and shelling proves an obstacle for on-the-ground site protection, effective monitoring of the situation and statuses of these sites, combined with the methodical documentation of antiquities and cultural property still accessible to archaeologists and members of the cultural heritage community, is of the utmost importance. As previously mentioned, the digitized documentation of the archival inventory of Syrian museums, for example, could be instrumental in potential restitution cases in the future.
Additionally, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), in association with the International Center for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) has partnered with the DGAM, in coordination with UNESCO, to hold several e-learning courses for Syrian cultural heritage professionals. The first of such courses, Protection of Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict, took place at the beginning of this year at the Damascus National Museum and provided around 75 DGAM managers, directors, curators, architects, and staff—not to mention Syrian cultural heritage researchers and conservation experts—with some of the necessary knowledge and training materials to build their capacities in helping preserve the country’s cultural heritage.
The Syrian audience welcomed this show of professional solidarity from the international heritage community, the success of which prompted the next e-learning course and video conference, which took place last month. Says ICCROM of the initiative:
“In organizing the course, ICOMOS and ICCROM call on all parties associated with the situation in Syria to fulfill their obligations under international law to protect Syria’s precious cultural heritage sites and institutions. A call was repeated at the beginning of the course to abide by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and to respect museums, monuments, and historic cities.”
Further seminars and courses are envisaged as part of a long-term effort, in addition to further knowledge, experience, and advice, which may be offered during Syria’s recovery phase. Certainly, preserving Syria’s cultural heritage can serve as not only an anchor for promoting social cohesion and national unity during the recovery phase, but it may potentially aid in promoting economic stability based on tourism, which, before the conflict, accounted for 12% of Syria’s GDP and generated more than 6.5 billion dollars a year.
Participants and trainers in ICCROM’s e-learning course, via video conference.
ICCROM and Rohit Jigyasu
As one of the trainers for the initiative, Rohit Jigyasu, President of the International Scientific Committee on Risk Preparedness (ICORP) states, such endeavors could effectively become a benchmark for a “paradigm shift in how we can build capacity and promote awareness for heritage conservation using new information technology.”
Our Public Responsibility
Given the situation and the myriad of associated issues, many of us may ask ourselves, “Well, what can we do to help?” As members of the public, we too can play our part, by not only making ourselves and others aware of such issues, but also by simply refraining from buying cultural goods and antiquities from conflict zones—Syrian or otherwise. After all, supply must meet demand, and a collective decision to stop buying these antiquities may go a long way to curb theft and looting. In the end, this combination of action—raising awareness surrounding the issues of looting and illicit trafficking—combined with inaction—refusing to engage in the purchase and trade of antiquities from conflict zones—may prove essential to preserving what remains of Syria’s rich cultural heritage.
Drawing Parallels: SAFE and the National Museum of Iraq
In light of such issues, it is hard not to draw the comparison between the current crisis in Syria and the conflict in Iraq, following the collapse of the Saddam regime. While the various circumstances and the context for each situation differs, many of the issues and the challenges facing Syria’s cultural heritage and archeological sites are, in many ways, similar to those in Iraq during the 2003 US-led invasion.
Indeed, many of our SAFE readers and contributors have similarly commented on this parallel during our 2013 Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage. SAFE was borne out of the travesty surrounding the looting of the National Museum of Iraq and now, during the tenth anniversary of both the looting of the museum and the founding of this organization, it seems particularly poignant to warn of the similar dangers affecting not only Syria’s cultural heritage, but of heritage sites across the globe. The memory of what happened in Baghdad serves as a perpetual reminder, wherein circumstances of the past can hopefully manifest as lessons for the future.
Additional Information and Further Resources
The Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk can be found here.
The link for UNESCO’s website, Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property in Syria, can be found here.
Updates on the situation of Syria’s cultural heritage on the ground can be found through DGAM’s website—in both Arabic and English—here.
For previous SAFE articles and information regarding the conflict in Syria and the destruction of its cultural heritage, please click here.