Monthly Archives: February 2011
New Zealand’s built history, cultural heritage suffer losses after massive quake
Recovery operations are still underway and looking increasingly grim in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the city’s second major earthquake in six months left over 140 dead and scores more wounded and missing. As always, people remain SAFE’s first concern and our condolences go out to those who have lost their loved ones, colleagues and homes.
But as the dust settles in New Zealand’s second largest city, we will also get a clearer picture of the toll on its built history and cultural heritage. As Prime Minister John Key said in an interview with TV3 News just a day after the 6.3-magnitude tremor hit, Christchurch will be “a very different city” once rebuilding efforts begin.(MORE ...)
Nat Geo Plans Weeklong Special on EgyptThe National Geographic Channel is capitalizing on the interest in things Egyptian with a weeklong special:(MORE ...)(Nat Geo Plans Weeklong Special on Egypt: “With events in Egypt making headlines, National Geographic Channel is plann…”Given that Zahi Hawass has been starring in shows as an “explorer-in-residence” for National Geographic, they will certainly have major access. We’ll have to wait and see whether the questions they ask are going to be softballs or real journalistic attempts to clarify exactly what happened at the museum that led to its being breached, along with several other incidents of looting. The record is very murky, in no small part because of Hawass’ own public-relations efforts at damage control in the immediate aftermath of the break-in, and it would be good to know what security plans existed, whether they included contingency plans that took account of the possibility of a breakdown in civil order caused by a deliberate removal of police, how many antiquities police were actually at the museum on the day of the break-in, and other questions of policy.
Assessment of possible damage to Egyptian cultural heritage
We thank Dr. Joris Kilas for sending us a report from the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield and the International Military Cultural Resources Work Group which reflects the findings from a mission conducted February 12-16, 2011 “to assess possible damages and looting attempts to Egyptian Heritage sites and museums after the recent unrests.
Many contradicting messages were reported regarding looting and vandalism, without the possibility of properly checking the real situation. Therefore there was an urgent need to send a mission especially to those sites that were supposedly affected by criminal acts, in order to document the situation, to state damages incurred and to encourage the parties involved to further efforts in protecting the invaluable Cultural Heritage of Egypt.”
More images are available by clicking on the Egypt 2011 tab at the Austrian National Committee of the Blus Shield’s web site.(MORE ...)
The importance of documenting cultural heritage
In 1957 the British archaeologist John S.V. Bradford – a pioneer in the use of aerial photography for the documentation of archaeological landscape – published the map of the impressive walls surrounding the ancient city of Arpi, the most important centre of the pre-Roman Daunian culture flourished in the Italian region of Apulia between VIII and IV centuries B.C. At that time the archaeological site, including the necropolis, was still unexcavated, but the Daunian material culture was already internationally known, and highly demanded, for its striking pottery with geometric patterning and crude depiction of humans, plants, and birds. When many years later the local office of the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage started some field excavation in Arpi, the savage looting of the site started as well.
The looting, and the intentional destruction of archaeological artifacts considered “non-marketable” continued for years, paralleling the growing demand for any ...(MORE ...)
"Egypt’s Antiquities Fall Victim to the Mob": A Response
Alexander Joffe’s article (Feb. 2) on the, fortunately minor, looting of the Cairo Museum is misleading and, indeed, paradoxical for an archaeologist, omits to mention, let alone discuss, the sole cause for this and all other looting and worldwide plunder. It exists to acquire “treasures” to be sold to customers: no customers, no looting or plunder. This reality is the beginning and end of all discussions on local plunder and looting. Such actions are initially conducted by thieves, not the “people” (“Iraqis,” “Egyptians”), who, as Joffe unfortunately claims, should “decide whether to preserve or destroy” their heritage. Both the thieves and local plunderers (who often commit violence in their activities), are employed by antiquity dealers, who arrange the smuggling abroad, and in turn sell their goodies to, museums and private collectors worldwide. The former purchase the plunder seeking to be labeled “encyclopaedic ...(MORE ...)
Justice Served: The Case of Recapture Wash
Another case of vandalism and archaeological damage out of the Southwestern United States has come to my attention. An opinion piece in the Salt Lake Tribune written by one Andrew Gulliford, a professor of Southwest Studies and History at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado, and a concerned citizen of San Juan County itself, explains the situation and local reactions. Two men from Blanding, Utah (the epicenter of a multi-year, and ongoing, Native American mortuary artifact looting and selling investigation) were arrested in 2007, and this month finally fined $35,000, for building an illegal ATV (all terrain vehicle) trail through Recapture Draw, San Juan County. For nothing more than a new track to race their vehicles, these two individuals chopped down numerous old juniper trees and wantonly displaced or knocked over several sections of Ancestral ...(MORE ...)
Why we care about the cultural heritage of Egypt – now.
No one knows what the future holds for Egypt. Our hearts and hopes are with the Egyptian people as they struggle toward genuine democracy. The first priority now must be the country’s stability, its citizens, their safety, their dignity.
While politicians work out ways to address the demands of the people, attention must also be focused on efforts to protect Egypt’s ancient cultural heritage, out of respect for the Egyptian people and all citizens around the world. Some may think this premature, even insensitive. We don’t. Here’s why:
– As the current government in Cairo gives way to a new political regime, and Egypt begins the process of renewal, it is essential that cultural heritage of the people – the touchstone of their cultural memory and identity - remains intact. We must work together to ensure that the new Egypt is not built on the rubble of robbed museums and plundered tombs.
– Also, protecting and preserving cultural heritage is now recognized as a key development priority for all nations: If we are truly concerned about Egypt’s social, political and economic future, we should strongly support the protection of their museums and heritage sites.
– The ancient and sacred structures and artifacts that make up the cultural heritage of Egypt represent the ultimate non-renewable resource. The world community must do everything it can to protect these treasures for all humanity and prevent irreparable damage that may that result in the destruction of ancient sites and loss of materials.(MORE ...)
Should museums sell objects to cover operating costs? An additional choiceThe choices offered as possible answers to the SAFE poll question, “Should museums sell objects to cover operating costs?” are “Yes,” “It doesn’t matter to me,” “Museums should sell objects for acquisitions only,” and “Only if there is a publicly disclosed policy.” These choices reflect the general perception of what the options are for museums. But there is another option that should be on the table: “Yes, but only if the objects are sold to another museum, or at least offered up for auction to museums.” Whether a museum engages in deaccessioning to raise operating cash or cash for acquisitions, the real issue is whether or not the public is going to lose access to an artwork worthy of remaining in a museum. Of course, residents of Buffalo may no longer be able to see Artemis and the Stag without traveling to New York, but the opposite was true beforehand, and the general public has not been impoverished.(MORE ...)
Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt until order is restored?
In response to the looting which took place in the aftermath of the invasion of Baghdad in 2003, the United States House of Representatives proposed HR 2009 (initiated by Congressmen Phil English and James Leach and later implemented as S. 671), to prohibit the importation into the United States of any archaeological or cultural material removed from Iraq without appropriate documentation. This law works to keep the cultural heritage of Iraq in Iraq, and seeks to eliminate the supply of freshly looted or stolen materials to the antiquities trade. Will similar legislative actions be taken given the current situation in Egypt?
The circumstances in Egypt are different in many regards from that which existed in Iraq in 2003. Absent the sense of responsibility which came from an overt US presence on the ground and a UN Security Council Resolution, where is the political will to back up the need for such legislation? Congressmen Phil English and James Leach are no longer in office; who might sponsor such a bill?
Are emergency legislative reactions necessary? Given the Schultz decision clarifying Egypt’s national ownership law, there already exists the legal basis for seizing looted Egyptian antiquities in the US.
Whether or not legislation is required, until order is restored, we believe that if the demand for Egyptian antiquities is curtailed, if not stopped, the loss of Egypt’s cultural patrimony during this tumultuous time would be curbed. We are happy to see that Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo, agrees.
Also, we hope that Egypt (as of 1973, party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention) would make a request for a bilateral agreement to restrict importation of antiquities into the US.
What do you think? Please cast your vote.(MORE ...)
Threats to Egypt’s cultural heritage: How will we respond?
The many accounts of looting and destruction in Egypt in the last few days have been alarming and at times, confusing. Reports about the nature and extent of the damage – and who caused the damage – have been numerous and sometimes conflicting. What are rumors? What are facts?
One recalls a similar situation in 2003 when the Iraq Museum was looted, and the number of objects became a source of confusion. Matthew Bogdanos’s article in The American Journal of Archaeology “The Casualties of War: The Truth About the Iraq Museum” (and the 2005 book Thieves of Baghdad) recounts that situation in great detail, and goes a long way to dispel early misconceptions.
As with the Iraq situation, we will probably not know all the facts for some time. But while information about the exact scope of the destruction – and who did what – is still being assessed, what we do know for certain is that one of the world’s richest and oldest cultural heritages is at risk. One artifact looted or destroyed is one too many.
We also know this: Egyptian antiquities can fetch huge sums. In December, 2010 alone, 13 artifacts reportedly sold at Sotheby’s for a total of $9,789,500.
So how will we respond?
A number of organizations have issued a statement that includes a “call on United States and European law enforcement agencies to be on the alert over the next several months for the possible appearance of looted Egyptian antiquities at their borders.” SAFE believes that we should also alert dealers, collectors, conservators, auction houses, museums, antique galleries. Any artifacts looted from Egypt during this tumultuous time will presumably end up on the antiquities market outside the country.
Will the trade exercise restraint or curtail its appetite for Egyptian collectibles during this time? Will it perform special due diligence? We hope it will.(MORE ...)