April 10: An important day for cultural heritage

For those concerned about the preservation and protection of our shared cultural heritage, April 10 is our day. Here’s why:

Monica Hanna Cooper Union posterDr. Monica Hanna will deliver her 2014 SAFE Beacon Award Lecture “Saving Ancient Egypt, One Tweet at a Time: How Social Media is Saving One of the World’s Oldest Civilizations” at the The Frederick P. Rose Auditorium (41 Cooper Square, Third Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets, from 
6:30 – 8:00PM. 
Please register here.) In Dr. Hanna’s first public lecture in the US, she will share firsthand accounts of the risks she takes to expose the looting problem in Egypt. She will tell us how looting feeds the black market trade of antiquities and destroys ancient sites, forever damaging our ability to learn from Egypt’s undiscovered ancient past, our shared heritage. She will describe what she, along with a group of volunteers have been doing about the situation, and how their efforts using social media have led to actual recovery of stolen objects. Perhaps most important, she will suggest what we can all do to help. The Beacon Award ceremony will follow.

Earlier the same day, the symposium Reform of Cultural Property Policy: Accountability, Transparency, and Legal Certainty will take place at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (55 Fifth Avenue, 1:30 – 5:30PM. Please register here.) Presented by the Committee for Cultural Policy, Inc. and the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal (AELJ), the half-day symposium will feature legal scholars, museum directors, and cultural policy specialists and explore whether current US law and policy be changed to better serve the interests of museums, the antiquities trade and preservation. Representing the views of various stakeholders, the discussions promise to be lively.

Will Dr. Hanna’s perspectives and firsthand experiences inform the conclusions from the earlier symposium? The answer is: YES.

SAFE is proud to collaborate with the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal and we invite all symposium attendees to join us to the SAFE Beacon Award Lecture at the Cooper Union Rose Auditorium, a few minutes’ walk away. Will Dr. Hanna’s perspectives and firsthand experiences inform the conclusions from the earlier symposium? The answer is: YES. For those who wish to sample Dr. Hanna’s point of view, tune into her highly anticipated April 9 appearance on “The Leonard Lopate Show” which will be broadcast over WNYC-AM radio and over the internet, between 12:40 PM.

April 10 is a day of special significance for SAFE. On this day, news about the looting of the Iraq Museum broke and planted the seed for our organization, founded to mobilize all citizens to take part in the stewardship of our shared cultural heritage.

Egypt’s heritage: a global concern

SAFE has added Egypt to the “A Global Concern” section of our web site. With recent updates on the dangers to cultural heritage resulting from political unrest, looting, and encroaching civilization, these pages aim to create an overview of what Egypt stands to lose, how cultural heritage is endangered, the market demand for Egyptian antiquities, what Egypt is doing to safeguard its own heritage, and what others are doing and how YOU can help protect Egypt’s heritage.

These pages were written and researched by Beatrice Kelly, with additional research by Tessa Varner. They exemplify the kind the work interns produce at SAFE.

Photo: Mallawi Museum

SAFE takes “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” buttons to Egypt

SAFE launched “Say YES to Egypt” campaign three years ago in response to the frightening news about the looting and destruction of Egypt’s cultural heritage. Our goal was to raise awareness about the situation and show solidarity for the people in Egypt. Thanks to your enthusiastic response, buttons were distributed around the globe, from Greece to Australia to Sweden to Canada - check out our Flickr page to see pictures posted by supporters showing off their buttons.

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 9.20.17 AMThis April, in honor of our 2014 Beacon Award Winner Monica Hanna, SAFE will relaunch this awareness campaign and distribute “Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” buttons in  Egypt. The Egypt-based media agency Past Preservers will kick off our campaign in Egypt by sponsoring the production of the first 500 buttons there. Dr. Hanna and Professor Salima Ikram of the American University in Cairo will help give them out. Wearers are asked to have their photos taken with the buttons (selfies are perfect!) Their photos will join these to make a statement to the world that we all stand together to save the past for our future.

With these buttons, not only will Egyptians wear their pride for their heritage on their sleeves (or lapels, shirts, bags, anywhere…) they will also send a clear message to others to also say “YES” to Egypt’s heritage, our shared heritage.

Join Past Preservers and sponsor SAFE’s ”Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage” with a donation of $100 for 500 buttons. Help spread the word. Each campaign donor will be acknowledged on our “Say YES” campaign page and on our cause page. Campaign ends April 30.

A Treasure Found … and Lost

The recently announced discovery of a hoard of late Roman (circa 407-406 AD) gold and silver objects — dug up by an unnamed metal detectorist in the forest near Ruelzheim, in Germany’s southwestern Rhineland-Palatinate state — is both thrilling and appalling.

The news is thrilling due to the nature of the hoard. The date of the objects makes the discovery unique in Germany. The importance of the objects in the hoard is second only to the 1868 discovery of a 1st century AD imperial Roman silver hoard known as the Hildesheim Treasure.

German-silver-bowl Silver bowl with stones set in gold, part of the “Ruelzheim Treasure”
DPA

The “Ruelzheim Treasure” reportedly consists of: three dozen solid gold pendants shaped like leaves (each with seven points); a large quantity of square pyramidal shaped gold buttons, which probably adorned a ceremonial tunic of Roman design; a silver-gilt dish cut into pieces in ancient times (probably to be sold as bullion); a solid silver bowl inlaid with semi-precious stones; a crumpled silver chest plate (probably used as decorative armor); several gold and silver statuettes; and — the most amazing survivor of all — a folding silver bench, known as a curule seat, which reportedly survived intact … that is, until the untrained individual with the metal detector tried to remove it from the ground and broke it into pieces.

News of the discovery is also appalling, not only due to the destroyed silver curule seat, but, more importantly, because the priceless information contained at the archeological site where the hoard was buried has been ruined by the metal detectorist, who removed everything of value that he could find. Soon the amateur was visited by German authorities after they learned that attempts were being made to sell the objects on the black market.

The objects were buried near an old Roman road at the time of an epic encounter known as the Battle of Mainz — which pitted the Franks against an alliance of Vandals, Suevi and Alans near the banks of the Rhine River. Thirty thousand Vandals were said to have been killed during the battle, which culminated on December 31, 406 when the Vandal alliance crossed the Rhine westward into Gaul, forever ending Roman military and political control in that part of Europe. Little wonder that someone—a fleeing Roman magistrate, petit royalty, or bandits perhaps?—would bury a gold and silver treasure near the side of a road but not survive long enough to retrieve it.

As valuable as the “Ruelzheim Treasure” may be in merchant circles, its archaeological and historical value would have been much greater if the integrity of the site had been maintained so that it could be scientifically excavated.

How much damage was done by the amateur with the metal detector? The importance of the various objects in relationship to one another may have been indicated by the burial arrangement. But the site has been destroyed, so that information is lost. Clues to the identity, rank  or status of its late 4th – early 5th century AD owner may have been deduced by archaeologists at the burial site. But the site has been destroyed, so that information is lost. Other items that may have existed at the burial site, such as ceremonial clothing and jewelry, have not been reported. The looter may have discarded or sold these items before the authorities found him.

The very idea that an amateur would discover a 5th century Roman silver curule seat, then destroy it by trying to pull it from a burial spot, boggles the mind.

As the History Blog tartly observes: “The site itself was deliberately damaged. Boy, would I love to see this thief prosecuted just for doing that.” Would anyone disagree?

Meanwhile, the search for artifacts and relics in German forests and fields by clandestine metal detectorists continues. More than 21,400 videos of these activities can be viewed on YouTube. Soon, the number of videos will equal the number of Vandals who died at the Battle of Mainz on the last day of December in the year 406 AD.

Who is Monica Hanna?

If you’re not already one of Monica Hanna’s rapidly-growing followers: more than 25,000 on Twitter—and add another 2,500 if you’re also following her on Facebook—or if you’re not one of the 6,500 fans of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, you may not be familiar yet with the winner of SAFE’s 2014 Beacon Award. Lauded within the field of cultural heritage, the Egyptian archaeologist is proving herself a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the illegal excavation and looting of ancient artifacts. We’ve written about Dr. Hanna before, but we’d like to take a moment to fully introduce the woman who is arguably changing the way we approach looting, vandalism, and the destruction of cultural heritage by introducing Monica Hanna through our “Who Is…?” campaign.

In 2009, SAFE started a “Who Is…?” campaign to introduce important individuals working on the front lines to protect the past for the future. Each “Who Is…?” profile includes statements by these individuals, excerpts from their writings, comments and reviews from others in the world of cultural preservation.

By highlighting the work of these individuals who may not be widely known yet, we invite any member of the general public to learn about the issues by finding out about the efforts of others who have made a difference. It also aims to inspire all of us to think of ways they too can contribute to the preservation of our heritage.

Stay tuned as we prepare for the upcoming award and check back here often for news and updates regarding Monica Hanna. In the meantime, take a further look at our campaign, Who is Monica Hanna?” and see what others are saying about how Monica defends and protects our shared cultural heritage.

Curtailing the loss of cultural patrimony by curtailing demand

Three years ago, we made this appeal to the trade: [U]ntil 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 then conducted a poll on the question: ”Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt until order is restored?” Seventy-six percent responded “Yes”; and thirty-six percent went further by responding “Yes. Antiquities trade should stop, period.” What this informal poll shows is unequivocal.

Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt survey results

The US remains a leading market for antiquities. A quick search for “Egyptian antiquities” on the eBay site at the time of this writing yielded more than 180 results, ranging from an “ancient silver pendant” selling for $5 to a “wooden sarcophagus” in a three-day auction with an opening price of $12,665.00, marked down from $14,000, available within 5 miles from midtown Manhattan zip code 10019. It is therefore welcome news to see that, according to this report in the Cairo Times, the world’s largest online auction site eBay has agreed with the US Egyptian Embassy to stop the sale of Egyptian antiquities. While it is unclear from the Cairo Times article if this agreement only applies to eBay in the US (what about eBay in Germany, Japan, etc.?) or when the sales ban will take effect, this is a significant move.

It is encouraging to see Egyptian authorities recognize that putting heat on major market players such as eBay is one way to curtail the loss of the world’s most precious nonrenewable resource.

SAFECORNER has addressed the concern regarding online auctions of antiquities for some time. We therefore applaud eBay for setting aside profit-making and joining the effort to save Egypt’s cultural patrimony, and our shared cultural heritage. We can only hope that eBay affiliates outside the U.S. will follow suit, e.g., by limiting or banning the sale of Cypriot artifacts on eBay Cyprus.

Protecting Egypt’s cultural heritage – repatriation efforts alone will not suffice

Given the well documented role of auction sales in the legitimization of unprovenanced artifacts, which translates as “no questions asked,” or possibly looted or looted, should anyone be surprised that a major source country such as Egypt would follow the examples set by Italy, Cambodia, Iran, and non-state actors such as Native American tribes in the United States, to stop the impending sale of artifacts that departed its country of origin without the benefit of a valid export certificate? The answer is: no.

The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry has made a concerted effort in recent months to pour over auction house catalogs in a global search for stolen antiquities and is pursuing in “all legal and diplomatic means to recover smuggled artifacts,” according to a story published in the online journal Al Monitor.

Egypt’s decision is understandable. Pressuring auctioneers to withdraw undocumented artifacts from sale sends an unambiguous message to would-be consignors that the risk of offering such material at public auction is rising. This, in turn, reduces the incentive to dig up and smuggle these items in the first place.

One would hope that the authorities concerned with antiquities in Egypt would further reduce the incentive to loot artifacts by paying more attention to prevention and enforcement efforts before these treasures appear for sale at auction houses.

To date, the most effective mechanism is found in Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO Convention).

As a state party to the Convention, Egypt can request the United States to impose temporary restrictions of the importation of the most endangered categories of Egyptian archaeological and ethnographic material into the largest market for such material in the world, the United States, by requesting the U.S. to enter into a bilateral agreement (Memorandum of Understanding or MOU), under Title 19 U.S.C. 2600 et seq, known as the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA) enacted in 1983.

Given the deteriorating situation on the ground in Egypt, it is likely that Egypt will qualify for emergency import restrictions under CCPIA, which the Government of Mali received from the U.S. in September 1993.

Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Mustafa Amin recently told Al-Monitor, “All international laws and conventions grant the competent authorities concerned with antiquities in Egypt the right to preserve the artifacts and to track [the pieces] illegally smuggled outside the country.”

We urge the Egyptian authorities to follow through and use all legal mechanisms to discourage looting, prevent smuggling, preserve and protect the most precious part of Egypt’s vast cultural patrimony: the still-intact evidence of its undiscovered past that remains in the ground. Repatriation efforts alone will not suffice. Efforts to encourage Egyptian authorities to seek an MOU with the U.S. are underway. The decision that Egyptian officials must make is clear.

Photo: Pharaonic artifacts are seen on display at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Sept. 30, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

Stop the plunder: archaeologist calls for more pressure on Egyptian government

The plunder of Egypt’s cultural heritage has again come to a boiling point in the last several days. Increased incidents of looting continue to exacerbate a situation already at great risk since the political turmoil. While little has been reported about the devastation in the press; thanks to Dr. Monica Hanna and her colleagues, the Egypt’s Heritage Task Force: الحملة المجتمعية للرقابة على التراث والأثار is keeping us updated on what’s going on. Still, much more needs to be done.

“We are losing a lot of the monastic graffiti (Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian and Demotic) and several other archaeological features. Egyptian history is being destroyed…The Egyptian government should take concrete steps to stop the looting and vandalism.” Dr. Hanna told SAFE.

We join Dr. Hanna to call on journalists and bloggers who write about these issues to keep their attention on Egypt. Spread the message that destruction of cultural heritage is a nonrenewable loss to us all that no one should tolerate, regardless of who one is or where one lives.

Looting at Ansina About the looting going on in Ansina, Egypt’s Heritage Task Force posted earlier today, “thugs today worked on destroying the main basilica of the site with the use of a bulldozer while the rest of the gang worked on dismantling the columns capitals to sell them. It is worth mentioning that The Italian mission has discovered a lot of manuscripts where looting happened today.

This alarming photo is only one of many from Egypt’s Heritage Task Force. Contact Dr. Hanna at monica_h@aucegypt.edu for more on-the-ground and up-to-date information.

Confrontations: “Looting????”

SAFE received an email with the subject line “Looting????” and the following links to Facebook images along with the question “What we can do about this ?????” We are grateful to be alerted, but regardless of what we might all be thinking, there are many more questions raised here than there are answers. In keeping with our mission, SAFE will be sharing this type of alerts on this blog under Confrontations when we receive such communications. We invite our readers to share their thoughts here” What do you think? Next time you wonder about something you come across, send it to us.

A)https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1426286677601370&set=a.1402020070028031.1073741827.100006601542674&type=1&theater

B)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1426286677601370&set=a.1402020070028031.1073741827.100006601542674&type=1&theater

C)https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1426286677601370&set=a.1402020070028031.1073741827.100006601542674&type=1&theater#!/photo.php?fbid=1385801228335939&set=a.1385543501695045.1073741828.100007182253540&type=1&theater

D)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383940251853433&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

D)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383939758520149&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

E)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383939478520177&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

F)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383896745191117&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

G)https://www.facebook.com/arkeolok.vural?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=1383890535191738&set=pb.100007124141060.-2207520000.1387032244.&type=3&theater

 

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.”

Introducing Confrontations

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

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. 


Dear friend,

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.

Mohamed Tawfik
Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Washington DC

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.

Global campaign sparks global responseIndeed, 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.”

 

SAFE thanks:

- 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.

Why we care about the cultural heritage of Egypt – now.

Originally posted on February 6, 2011, the following is reposted as a reminder of why we Say YES to Egypt’s Heritage! (Photo: Egypt’s Heritage Task Force: الحملة المجتمعية للرقابة على التراث والأثار )


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.

Join SAFE in solidarity for the people of Egypt and their cultural heritage.

 

The 10th anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum: how will we remember?

Vigil brochure cover SAFE created this brochure addressing the significance of ancient Mesopotamia, the impact of the looting of the Iraq Museum, the ongoing plunder of archaeological sites, how these situations relate to the rest of the world, and what we can do to preserve the past.

“Look at it still today,” wrote the mythic ruler Gilgamesh of a treasure that is now but a memory. “Touch the threshold, it is ancient…. Climb upon the wall of Uruk. Walk along it, I say. Regard the foundation terrace and examine the masonry: is it not burnt brick and good? The seven sages laid the foundations.”

During those frightful days in April of 2003, the sages wept as the most precious survivors of this golden age — more than 15,000 objects and writings at the National Museum of Iraq recording the first Mesopotamian civilizations that flourished more than 7,000 years ago — were systematically looted and cast to the winds. Even more devastating is the continued plunder of thousands of archaeological sites in Iraq, most of which have never been excavated. Many of us experienced shock and outrage when this catastrophe first became known.

How did we respond?

For SAFE, that quiet rage soon turned to action, and planted the beginning of the organization, dedicated to raising public awareness about the vulnerability of our shared cultural heritage to the damaging effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade. In 2007, SAFE initiated the Global Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum with Dr. Donny George Youkhanna—the Museum’s former Director—to ensure that what happened in Baghdad not happen again, anywhere. Individuals and institutions around the world have joined the Vigil since then.

Click to see the may ways the SAFE Global Candlelight Vigil has been observed since 2007 around the world Click to see the may ways the SAFE Global Candlelight Vigil has been observed since 2007 around the world

The SAFE web site offers many suggestions and resources but the most memorable vigil ideas from previous years have come from the hosts themselves. Check them out as we highlight them during the campaign here. For example, University of Washington museology students tracked the flow of looted Iraqi antiquities on the global market, grade school students in Canada wrote poetry to express what the loss of cultural heritage meant to them. Others simply added their name to a list of supporters and lit a virtual candle.

In 2013, SAFE marks the 10th anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum with The Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage by inviting all citizens to light a candle and share their remembrances and thoughts on cultural heritage. SAFE will observe the Vigil by showcasing the many ways institutions and individuals around the world have supported and inspired us in our mission in the “10 YEARS AFTER” campaign; and by paying tribute to all those to fight to safeguard cultural heritage everyday around the globe. Please look for these on this web site and on Facebook.

This is how SAFE will honor the past, and celebrate the future. Will you join us?

Why China’s MoU request should be renewed: its undiscovered ancient past

On our Facebook group yesterday, attention was brought to a mysterious stone animal uncovered this past January at an excavation site in Sichuan, China. Weighing 8.5 tons, and at 10ft 10in long, 3ft 11in wide and 5ft 7in tall, what else do we know about it besides its vastness?

What animal is it?
Media reports have called it a horse, a lion, or a panda, a cow, a pig. The latest “conclusion” is that the animal is a mythical rhinoceros, or a hippopotamus.

How old is it?
While most Chinese reports have the statue dating to the Qin Han dynasties 221 B.C.–A.D. 220, other reports speculate that it could have come from the Tang dynasty 618–907, or even Ming Qing 368—1840.

Perhaps most important, what was its purpose?
Archaeologists are reportedly baffled. At this writing, we have not found the discovery in Kaogu, or Archaeology journal, published by Institute of Archaeology, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  On China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage web site, there is one report from Sichuan Daily  mentioning a possible connection to calming floodwaters. What we do know is that the statue has ow become a symbol of good luck during the Lunar New Year, and lovingly nicknamed “史上最萌石兽” or “the most adorable stone animal in history.”

It will take some time for archaeologists to decipher the markings found on the statue’s surfaces, study the skeletal remains of other animals in its vicinity and make sense of the many other artifacts also discovered, including pots and reportedly ceremonial objects. For now, we have to contend with speculations, and hope that the site had not been looted, and will remain intact.

Stone horse and tiger Stone horse and tiger narrowly escaped looters

In 2008, four other stone animals in Guangxi province narrowly escaped being dug up and carted away by looters, thanks to reports from the villagers. Although not as big as the Sichuan animal, these statues appear equally difficult to steal, and equally mysterious. As mentioned in our earlier post about a looted 27-ton stone coffin measuring 4 meters long, 2 meters wide and 2 meters high,  when it comes to looting for profit, size no longer matters.

The public hearing to review a five-year renewal of the 2009 Memorandum of Understanding that restricts certain categories of antiquities from importation into the US takes place today at the Department of State. For SAFE, the most important reason for the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to recommend the renewal to the President is this Most of China’s vast ancient history remains undiscovered. There is much more mystery than there is knowledge about a civilization that spans more than 7,000 years. And the decision must be based on this: Do we want to know more?

We do, because China’s ancient cultural heritage is our shared cultural heritage. As Donny George said, cultural heritage is a human right. We all deserve to know more about our own humanity, knowledge is our right. As such, we must do everything we can to stop the plunder of cultural heritage. The UNESCO 1970 has its flaws, import restrictions alone will not end looting and the illicit antiquities trade that feeds it. But until a better alternative is recommended and implemented, the US must do what it can to safeguard our cultural heritage—not only for China—but for all of us. Anything else is just an excuse.

China’s “other” looting problem

One might rejoice at today’s news about the Christie’s owner François Pinault’s offer to return two bronze animal heads to China, a “cause célèbre for Chinese nationalists” has garnered start-studded attention from Ai Weiwei to Jackie Chan, Yves Saint Laurent, Nicolas Sarkozy, the Dalia Lama and now the head of the PPR, maker of luxury fashion goods, husband of movie start Salma Hayek. Or, one might ask if this is really a cause for celebration.

Since our 2009 post on the subject stating that since the objects were taken before current laws were in place, China’s “only recourse so far has been to purchase these antiquities back whenever they surface on the antiquities market,” Pinault has found another way. Purchasing the bronzes then “donating” them back to China, “their rightful home”, Pinault has found another solution, and a  way to improve business and diplomatic relations with a nation that boasts an impressive purchasing power by showing respect for its cultural heritage. The sculptures are of two animals in the Chinese zodiac, and were part of Beijing’s Yuanmingyuan 圓明園 (Imperial Summer Palace), sacked by French and British troops in the 19th century. China’s mission to track down the many other artifacts looted at that time has been widely published and sometimes criticized.

We will never know if Pinault’s act of generosity would take place if China had not emerged as PPR’s “fastest-growing market for its luxury goods” and if the celebrities had not shown their keen interest. What we do know, is that the return of these sculptures is the right thing to do, even if—and perhaps particularly—when the case of the animal heads is not a legal but a moral issue. For this, we applaud Pinault.

ChinastopplunderYet, on the eve of the decision whether to renew restrictions on the importation of certain categories of Chinese antiquities into the US, SAFE believes it is time to focus on China’s “other” looting problem, and we think, the most important problem: the plunder of its numerous ancient sites yet to be excavated. In her testimony in support of China’s request for a bilateral agreement that calls for import restrictions, SAFE Founder Cindy Ho said in 2005:

One of the biggest archaeological mysteries in China is the joint tomb of China’s only Empress Wu Zetian, and her husband Emperor Li Zhi. Called Qianling, it is the only tomb in China that holds two emperors and the only Tang tomb that has not been looted. It has yet to be excavated because for half a century, the proper time to excavate Qianling has been heavily debated. While the Chinese government is concerned about security and looting, archaeologists are eager to study the buried artifacts, which are tantamount to completing our knowledge of the Tang Dynasty. Attempted robberies—although presumably thwarted—have made everyone uneasy.

What is buried in Qianling will remain forever unknown if the pillage in China continues. We will never know what the ancient bamboo tablets with ancient inscriptions had to tell us just as the stories of daily life are lost when cylinder seals from Ancient Mesopotamia are looted.  Nor will we ever understand the history of the ancient Northern People, the Chu Culture, much like the Vicús people of Peru, whose culture we know little about because of the illicit antiquities trade.

Nearly 10 years later, the official word is: no excavation of Qianling is considered for at least another 50 years, citing “preservation of the integrity of the tomb site and maintaining the environment of surrounding areas” as the top concern.

Authentic pieces of Yuanmingyuan may not resurface on the auction block any time soon, given the recent notoriety of the case of the animal heads and China’s continued rise as a formidable negotiator in the global arena. But the kind of plunder in the case of Yuanmingyuan is quite different from the kind of looting SAFE is most concerned about: the destruction of intact evidence of our undiscovered past, humanity’s most precious non-renewable resource.

Since January 2009, the US has decided to join with the international response to curbing looting and the illicit antiquities trade by granting China’s request for help in preserving its cultural heritage, our cultural heritage by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). As long as knowledge about our past cannot be revealed because of the threat of looting to feed the antiquities trade, SAFE supports import restrictions as an effective deterrent to looting. As long as another alternative to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 (UNESCO) and the Cultural Property Implementation Act has yet to emerge, we urge the Department of State and the Cultural Property Advisory Committee to recommend to the President to continue to abide by the US obligations as a member state of UNESCO and reaffirm its commitment to shared global cultural heritage by renewal the MoU for another five years.

This is why until media pressure focuses on the “other” looting problem: the plunder of sites to feed the black market trade of antiquities, we could celebrate the repatriation of the the rabbit and the rat only with cautious optimism and hope that the US would also do the right thing, as Pinault has.

The "other" non-renewable resource

Objects uncovered in their original contexts, properly interpreted, provide insight into the way our ancestors lived, their societies and their environments. They complete our view of ancient life and enrich our understanding on many levels. As such, antiquities comprise an essential part of our global cultural heritage.

This Earth Day, let’s also consider the other non-renewable resource: our shared cultural heritage. Once an artifact is ripped from the ground, most of the knowledge it contained is lost – forever.

Originally posted on April 22, 2010

SAFE kickstarts global awareness campaign with appreciation

Beginning today, on the 10th anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum, SAFE will observe The Donny George Candlelight Vigil for Global Heritage with a global awareness campaign “10 YEARS AFTER” which focuses on our core mission: to raise public awareness about the irreversible damage that results from looting, smuggling and trading illicit antiquities.

Until October 1, we will highlight the following on our web site and social media outlets:

• the efforts of institutions and individuals dedicated to global heritage preservation;
• the global concern of looting and the illicit antiquities trade;
• how public awareness can contribute to the solution;

and apropos to the theme of 10th anniversary…

• the many ways you participated in our Global Candlelight Vigil around the world, which began in 2007 with Dr. Donny George Youkhanna’s call to action.

2013 vigil candle logo Click to light a candle

Ten years after the event that precipitated the founding of our organization, we wish to pay tribute to all those who supported us and worked with us; and most of all, those who continue to do so. Taking this opportunity to honor your work is how SAFE wishes to celebrate our own 10th anniversary, and look to the future. And the future of our past.

This is why we designed this special 10th anniversary Global Candlelight Vigil to invite your thoughts and reflections. Initial responses to our invitation have already come in, they are posted here and here, and on Facebook beginning today. Please read Howard Spiegler’s reminder not to forget the efforts to recover artworks looted by the Nazis; René Teijgeler’s concern about the situation in Syria as it parallels Iraq’s; Dean Snyder’s personal tribute to Dr. Youkhanna; Abdulamir Hamdani’s summary of a report on the current situation in Iraq, to be delivered at a seminar in conjunction with the exhibition CATASTROPHE!  TEN YEARS LATER: THE LOOTING AND DESTRUCTION OF IRAQ’S PAST; Steven George’s expression of appreciation; Senta German’s observation on the impact of the looting of the Iraq museum on raising public awareness. Thank you for your participation, we look for your upcoming contributions.