The following is Dr. Abdulamir al-Hamdani’s presentation on the destruction of Iraq’s heritage made on July 18, 2014 at the Iraqi Cultural Center. The event was also live-tweeted by Dr. Damien Huffer (#ICHpanel) and reported here by Dr. Alex Nagel. SAFE is grateful for this collaboration, allowing us to raise awareness about these critical issues.
Author Archives: SAFECORNER
This compilation is the result of organizations and individuals answering SAFE’s call to join us in marking the 10th anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum and the subsequent founding of SAFE.
SAFE thanks all contributors for giving us the special opportunity to highlight your efforts in preserving cultural heritage and to hear your thoughts on the fight against looting and the illicit antiquities trade. It has been a pleasure and an inspiration. We are also grateful to those who lit a virtual candle from more than 30 countries. Please keep the flame burning for global heritage!
And thank you for remembering with us.
On June 2, 2014 the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) held a public session in consideration of Egypt’s request for a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to impose import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological artifacts into the US.
There were approximately 40 attendees in addition to the members of the Committee and Cultural Heritage Center personnel. Of the 11 presenters, eight spoke in support of the MoU, a ninth speaker found it redundant, two opposed the inclusion of coins.
The CPAC Chair Patty Gerstenblith began by asking speakers not to read their comments already submitted in writing and to focus their five-minute presentations on the four determinations in question.
A common sentiment expressed by the supporters of the MoU request throughout the hearing is that the implementation of US import restrictions would create a ripple effect that would lower market demand and thereby reduce the incentive to loot. An MoU with the United States will stimulate engagement among local communities and public educational programs in Egypt and support important long-term foreign policy goals over a broad range of issues between the US and Egypt. While Egypt is doing its best with limited resources to protect its cultural patrimony, assistance via an MoU with the US is urgently needed. By providing such assistance to Egypt, the US would join a growing number of States Parties to the Convention who have given similar assistance, a necessary prerequisite to approving an MoU.
The speakers who opposed import restrictions argued that since Egypt’s problems are internal, and the will of the Egyptian people to solve this problem without foreign assistance is uncertain, it is unfair for US collectors and to dealers to be asked to curb their activities. While the MoU requires documentation and export permits in order for material to be imported into the US, opponents argued that it is unrealistic to expect small businesses to do this work. Since documentation is not required in EU countries, collecting and trading will simply bypass the US to avoid the restrictions, thereby hurting business.
Since the two representatives on the opposing side were only interested in excluding coins and not import restrictions per se, it suggests that if there are any others outside of the coin trade who are against the proposed MoU, they chose not to have their voices heard. This is further confirmed by the 352 comments submitted online.
The following summary is a recap of the points that were made by the speakers (in order of appearance), not quotes. We thank Damien Huffer and Elizabeth Kiggs for their contribution of notes:
Dr. David O’Connor, Lila Acheson Wallace Professor of Ancient Egyptian Art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, American Research Centre in Egypt:
- supports MoU—an important step in furthering US-Egypt cultural and scientific exchange and collaboration
- is aware of the severity of unprecedented looting in Egypt since 2011
- ARCE dedicated to supporting research Egyptian history and culture, fostering broader public knowledge about Egypt, strengthening American-Egyptian cultural ties
- ARCE supports 15-20 excavations per year, about 500 American scholars and 6-12 fellows in Egypt
- Most ARCE-trained Egyptians continue work in the public sector in site management and site security
- Egypt has reasonably successful record in protecting sites
- when one of the sites at Abydos was hit hard by looters, Egyptian government provided additional guards and looting stopped
Dr. Laurel Bestock, Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Archaeology and the Ancient World and Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies, American Research Centre in Egypt:
- supports MoU, including coins
- has been working in Egypt for many years, hiring and training local workers, working with local specialists and conservators
- reported finding a cache of 300 Ptolemaic III-IV era coins in January, 2011. Buried and taken out of circulation, find allows team to date site and shed light on the use of money in ritual donations, providing leap in understanding religious practices. Egyptian government instrumental in protecting the cache and site from looters, whose attempts were successfully deterred.
- archaeological information from coin cache could not be gained from a single coin found in the same context. These coins are common issues, of multiple denominations, some with mint information, all from Egypt.
- Egypt’s Antiquities Ministry is doing what it can under difficult circumstances
- MoU would strengthen respect and emotional bond between US and Egypt
Dr. Douglas Boin, Assistant Professor, St. Louis University History Department:
- supports MoU
- protection for papyri and ancient manuscripts needed
- some scholars, blinded by the hope of discovering the next great ancient or biblical text, will destroy Egyptian mummy masks to extract the papyri (all of which is legal today)
- trade in ancient texts big business
- MoU must include ancient texts, papyri, and mummy masks
- MoU would compel researchers to be more diligent and to only publish finds with full provenance
- MoU would lead to proper presentation of papyrus finds by professional associations
Elizabeth Varner, President-Elect, Board of Directors, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, Executive Director, National Art Museum of Sport:
- supports MoU
- if we don’t help Egypt now, when do we?
- ICOM Red List confirms Egypt’s looting problem
- increased number of market countries are states parties to 1970 UNESCO, showing increased international effort
- Egypt has met all four of the criteria required for an MOU set forth by CPIA
- Egypt has had legislation protecting its cultural patrimony for two centuries
- Egypt party to international treaties and conventions
- Egypt is doing its best given the vastness of sites
Peter Tompa, Lobbyist, International Association of Professional Numismatists (“IAPN”) and the Professional Numismatists Guild:
- objects to the MOU a “done deal” as suggested by New York Times editorial, goes against American democracy
- OK with the MoU as long as it is limited to large, obvious, Pharaonic period objects, not coins
- Is request of MoU timed to glorify the new Egyptian government? (Note: Egypt presidential election took place between 26 and 28 May 2014)
- corruption and oversight along with rebellion against symbols of the former ruling regime are reasons Egyptians loot
- CPAC should take into account the 91% of public comments requesting that coins be exempted from designated list
- Egypt is a mess
- coins should be exempt
- MoU unfairly burdens private citizens who wish to collect
- coins are too small and widespread during the reign of any given empire to matter
- cites Portable Antiquities Scheme (UK) as great model to follow instead
- no documentation for coins, no database
- did not answer question why coin collections cannot be inventoried
- money should go towards security not legal efforts to draft MoUs
- no similar international effort; EU does not require documentation for antiquities trade between EU borders
- EU traders will just keep Egyptian material to themselves to avoid strict US customs if MoU is passed
- what about orphans? (Note: An “orphan” is an unexcavated, ie. likely plundered, object that left its country of origin without an export permit)
Mr. Wayne Sayles, Founder, Ancient Coin Collectors Guild:
- does not oppose MoU as long as coins are excluded
- coin collector for 50 years
- does not deal in fresh dug-ups
- MoU hurts business
- MoU will push out avocation of 50,000 collectors and many clubs
- we all need to follow the law
- we are not evil people
- Italians are openly selling coins without export permits despite the MoU because they are not considered culturally important
- Egypt does not have the will to do anything about looting (qualifies comment as merely subjective perception)
- collectors and small business owners have no time to inventory coins
- coins don’t have provenance
- Egyptian coins found in 16 countries
- keeping inventory and documentation should be matter of law; if legislated, will follow
- property rights issue
- has not fully inventoried his own collection (Note: CPAC has made it clear for years that coins outside the country of origin that are documented,or inventoried, prior to the signing of the MOU are exempt to the provisions of the proposed MoU)
Dr. Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, Ancient Coins Curator, Harvard Art Museums:
- supports MoU, coins included
- coins should not be treated separately from other archaeological material because they are an essential part of almost any excavation
- coinage only exists in Egypt since the Ptolemaic period, through the Ottoman period
- the multiple-object argument against inclusion of coins does not hold water, it also applies to ceramics, glass, etc.
- coins of all types were minted by specific ancient governments; thus valuable to the study of ancient government structure
- coins are not just made for export as some have claimed…but exchangeable for goods and services and other currencies
- even small, ugly coins can give us much information
- to document a coin not a question of law, reputable dealers do document, but duty to document and record provenance
- not only Custom’s responsibility to catch illegal exports at the border, experts called upon to identify coins. Task difficult, but not insurmountable
- foreign coins are known to have been present in Egypt in multiple periods
- without inventory and documentation, museums would not accept donations of disassembled coin collections
Alan Safani, Art Dealer, International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA):
- publicly supports the MoU but only for newly surfaced loot
- alarmed at current Egyptian situation
- real distinction between licit and illicit markets; he and IADAA members deal with the former strictly
- blanket ban on the importation of artifacts of Egyptian origin would not follow intent of the law which was only to restrict those of “cultural significance and importance”
- MoU import restrictions are redundant because reputable dealers already follow the 1983 Egyptian law restricting the exportation of artifacts out of Egypt
- what date should we follow? 1970 Convention? 1983 Egyptian exportation law? Hypothetical date of the signing of an MoU?
- uninformed collectors may abuse the pre-MoU timeframe and disregard the 1983 law, causing more harm than good in regulating the antiquities market
- issue is internal
- Egypt disregards its own heritage
- Egypt’s preference for developing tourism over site protection further encourages looting
- Egypt has more than 100 years’ history of antiquities dealing, plus looting in antiquity
- Cairo Museum used to have a shop selling antiquities
- questions if looting frequency is actually getting worse, or we’re just more aware now
- MoU would not impede practice of IADA, would have insignificant effect
Dr. Monica Hanna, Archaeologist, Egypt’s Heritage Task Force:
- looters armed with guns and geo-sonar equipment
- exponential increase of looting since 2011 affecting all artifacts
- unregistered and unexcavated sites looted
- foreign excavations need to do much more to build capacity and leave behind skills and economic incentive to not loot between seasons, Valley of the Kings a good example of success
- antiquities smuggled out of Egypt use same channels as drugs and arms, eg. through the Sinai into Israel
- drug bust three weeks ago also recovered smuggled statuary
- human traffickers also move antiquities, smuggled in building supply shipments to Gaza, via ports with migrants to Europe
- huge online market for prehistoric, Pharoanic, Coptic, Islamic and more recent antiquities
- use of bulldozers obvious sign of organized activity. Eg. in Antinopolis, looters destroy conservation work to go after coins and mummies
- guards, archaeologists, and individual citizens are being shot at, and risking their lives to protect their cultural heritage
- children used to dive into tunnels get sanded over and killed
- villagers targeting Luxor
- the market should stop entirely until we get it under control
- to a poor Egyptian farmer with 2-3000 objects, selling antiquities for $15 on eBay is worth the effort
- usually what sells on eBay not saleable on the black market
- every archaeologist should think about community development and promoting local people’s connection to the past
- American archaeological teams should publish in Arabic
- MoU a start to fostering economic connection between the local populations and archaeological sites
- not enough policing before, getting better
- objects coming to the US
- US scholars buying looted material
- new Parliament will have strict laws, wrote to both presidential candidates
- MoU would help train 12,000 guards
- will meet with EU and UAE representatives to discuss bilateral agreements similar to MoU with US
Dr. Sarah Parcak, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Society for American Archaeology:
- supports MoU
- expert in GPS remote sensing use for archaeological survey and looting patrol
- satellite imagery only way to show evidence, location, extent, time of looting, also provides helpful information into what objects to look for on the market – i.e. 26th dynasty shabtis that were looted from a specific location
- looting increased significantly since 2011
- government acknowledges looting problem
- job and research changed dramatically since 2011 Arab Spring from general study and research to establishing a methodology to document looting of known and unknown sites
- satellite imagery cannot provide evidence or data for looting under houses and in tombs
Dr. Brian Daniels, Director of Research and Programs, Penn Cultural Heritage Center:
- maintains a database of 900+ records regarding Egyptian and Syrian cultural property “events”
- since 2011, increased effectiveness in Egyptian law enforcemens with help from Customs and Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, Carabinieri
- Egyptians interested in protecting cultural sites
- 12,000 site guards is not insignificant number
- site guards only get paid $500 a year, foreign excavation teams should help pay for them
- increase in volunteer groups and citizens efforts
- some low-end items seen on eBay, but most artifacts likely sitting in warehouses at present
- foreign archaeological teams should publish in Arabic
- appears to support the hypothesis that some looting is performed on commission
- 3-5 year lag between looting of objects and appearance on the market. Examples: 10 year lapse in the Robert Hecht/Giacomo Medici items;10 years after looting of the Iraq Museum, objects still not surfacing
On June 2, 2014, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) will begin its review of Egypt’s request that the US impose import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), made under 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). Written public comments submitted earlier are posted here. (We urge our readers to take the time and read some of the longer submissions where the most reasoned, fact-based arguments are made. To us, substance is a clear winner here, not circular reasoning.)
SAFE has been a proponent of import restrictions as an effect deterrent to stem the trade of illicit antiquities. In Egypt’s case, we wrote on February 1, 2011, “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.” Earlier this year, we urged the Egyptian authorities to use all legal mechanisms to discourage looting, prevent smuggling, preserve and protect the most precious part of Egypt’s vast cultural patrimony by seeking an MoU with the U.S.
Both the United States and Egypt are both states parties to the UNESCO Convention which obliges States Parties to restrict the importation of cultural property stolen from a museum or monument in another participating country (Article 7b), and allows States Parties whose archaeological or ethnological patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage to ask other States Parties for help in protecting the affected categories of materials, through measures that may include restrictions on imports and exports (Article 9). In other words, both nations have, for some decades, already decided to join with the international response to curbing looting and the illicit antiquities trade by being a part of the Convention. By imposing import restrictions on Egyptian antiquities, the US would simply be fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, as it has done since the signing of the first MoU with El Salvador in 1987.
SAFE believes that ALL nations should help protect one another’s cultural heritage. While some stakeholders — such as those who advocate for the unregulated acquisition and trade of cultural property — may question the validity of other countries’ cultural patrimony laws and criticize the effectiveness of their enforcement, no meaningful alternative to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, now joined by more than 120 countries around the world, has been proposed.
Helping to protect another nation’s cultural patrimony by temporarily limiting the importation of its cultural property is the least that any right-thinking nation can do to safeguard one of humanity’s greatest legacies.
What do you think?
True to its mission, SAFE accomplished its goal to help maximize the impact of Dr. Monica Hanna’s message in the United States — a major market country for Egyptian antiquities — by honoring her with the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award on April 10, 2014. The SAFE team’s months of preparation paid off handsomely with featured coverage in the New York Times, the PBS “NewsHour” and on live radio with WNYC, the New York City affiliate of National Public Radio, CBC Radio in Toronto, and BBC, to name a few.
The success of this year’s Beacon Award marks an achievement for not only Dr. Monica Hanna, but also host organization, SAFE. The long and careful planning of this year’s event offered a special opportunity to lend support to one of the field’s most vocal and inspiring figures, and introduce her to a new audience in the United States. Dr. Hanna’s unique affinity for the media combined with her depth of knowledge proved SAFE’s decision to focus on reaching out to members of the press with this year’s Award events. Most important, it was Dr. Hanna’s compelling story that members of the public are clearly interested in.
Thanks to the diligent work of SAFE members and volunteers, as well as the Beacon Award Hosting Committee and donors, both Dr. Hanna and SAFE were able to achieve the common goal of raising public awareness surrounding the destruction of our shared cultural heritage. Read a recap of the evening’s events here.
We thank members of our Hosting Committee
- Center for Heritage & Society, UMass Amherst
- Sameh Iskander
and the following for sponsoring the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award:
- Cultural Heritage Partners, LLC
- Egyptology Unit, American University in Cairo
- The Artemis A. W. and Martha Sharp Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World
- Lucille Roussin
- Rebecca Rushfield
- Elizabeth Simpson
- Marina Papa-Sokal
SAFE is grateful to the following for their skills, care, hard work and kind support that made the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award a reality:
Betsy Hiel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review whose articles introduced SAFE to Dr. Monica Hanna
Shawn Baldwin for his portrait of Dr. Hanna, which no one can ignore
Quicksilver Media and Unreported World for their documentary “Egypt’s Tomb Raiders”
SAFE’s volunteers and interns without whom the SAFE Beacon Award would not have been possible: Elizabeth Gilgan, Alyssa Gregory, Damien Huffer, Mary Montgomery, Sandra Roorda, Rebecca Rushfield, Michael Shamah, Tessa Varner, Marni Blake Walter
And to Monica, for inspiring us all.
For those concerned about the preservation and protection of our shared cultural heritage, April 10 is our day. Here’s why:
Dr. 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.
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.
Photo: Mallawi Museum
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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This alarming photo is only one of many from Egypt’s Heritage Task Force. Contact Dr. Hanna at firstname.lastname@example.org for more on-the-ground and up-to-date information.
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.
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?
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.”
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…
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.