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.

Past and Present Working Together

Thanks to our sponsor Yadaweya, guests to the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award Dinner will be treated to a gift from the Egyptian online fair trade marketplace. This collaboration with SAFE provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on where the past and present cross paths and how this intersection can help preserve heritage of all kinds. To quote their website, Yadaweya “serves as a platform for those interested in discovering Egypt and its cultural heritage.” So not only does it provide artisans the opportunity to continue making their traditional crafts and preserve a skill set that has been passed down through the generations (such as the loom work in this video), it also educates consumers about the historical sites that are home to these artisan communities.


SAFE gift courtesy of Yadaweya Attendees to the SAFE Beacon Award Dinner were presented with a gift from Yadaweya

Twelve Egyptian heritage sites are featured on their web site, providing background information about the sites and the artisans that work in the area. By adding this human connection to the heritage sites, Yadaweya emphasizes a point that is sometimes forgotten: heritage sites are not only isolated structures in uninhabited lands.

Yadaweya has previously participated in SAFE Beacon Award Winner Monica Hanna’s campaign to protect the Dahshour site. To them, keeping history alive is vital to its survival. SAFE is pleased to collaborate with Yadaweya in our common cause of preserving heritage for all.

Saving Cultural Heritage, One Tweet at a Time

Publish, publish, publish. If I have ever heard a mantra for academic archaeologists, it is this. Repeated over and over again to every aspiring undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral candidate, this phrase is the driving force in this field. But for whom are we publishing? More often than not, papers are geared towards other academics, which is a necessary and critical practice to advance research and gain awareness. However, when it concerns looting, smuggling, and trading illicit antiquities, there is an audience that needs even more attention — the general public.

Archaeologists are in a unique position to inform the public of issues regarding looting because many have firsthand experience with it. In the recent article “Archaeological Site Looting in “Glocal” Perspective: Nature, Scope, and Frequency,” Blythe Bowman Proulx surveyed 3,009 archaeologists and found that 78.5% encountered “looting or evidence of looting while participating in fieldwork of any kind.” Of those archaeologists, 24.1% had encountered “looters on-site and looting activity in progress” (Proulx 2013:119). While Proulx was only able to sample a limited number of archaeologists, she effectively showed that they were no strangers to looting. From my point of view, archaeologists are also in a position to take a stance and have a voice. They have the opportunity to engage with the public by sharing their tales of the destruction of cultural heritage, but the question is, have they done so?

 “They [Egyptian archaeologists] live in an isolated world…”

Making those outside the field of archaeology sensitive to the endangerment of cultural heritage is not easy. It is difficult to inspire them to take action even if they have heard the plea. In a December interview, Egyptologist Dr. Monica Hanna reflected on the current state of antiquities in Egypt and the citizens’ connection with their heritage — or lack thereof. She states that “The don’t feel it’s part of their heritage. Even the Egyptian social studies schoolbook – the way it presents [Ancient] Egypt and modern Egypt, [they] are two hermetically sealed entities.” The sudden increase in looting across Egypt after the 2011 uprising may have highlighted this disconnect between the Egyptian people and their monuments, but it has also underlined the fact that when people care, they will go to great lengths to take a stand.

The onus to inspire courage and action to protect cultural heritage falls on every person involved in the field, including archaeologists. In a more recent interview, Hanna noted that archaeologists in Egypt “live in an isolated world…They think they are the experts so no one has the right to talk about antiquities except for them.” The thought that archaeologists are the only ones who can control the dialogue on antiquities must be banished. The public also must have a voice. There are an overwhelming number of platforms that can accomplish this– platforms that have started revolutions. Hanna has begun the process in Egypt by garnering over 25,000 followers on Twitter2,400 followers on Facebook, and 6,500 fans of Egypt’s Heritage Task Force. She encourages everyone to share their stories of antiquities looting, regardless of who they are.

Example of a tweet Example of a tweet

Spreading the word and starting dialogues with the general public about cultural heritage destruction is of the utmost importance. While there is enormous pressure on archaeologists to publish academically, it is vital that discussions about these issues also take place via forums that are also used by non-academics. For instance, a quick search of users associated with the keywords “archaeologist” or “archeologist” on Twitter– one of the most popular social media platforms– yielded just about 350 results. Of course, while these results may not encompass all the archaeologists active on Twitter, it suggests that only a fraction of the archaeology community is fully utilizing a free tool that has 241 million active users a month.

Where are the voices of those 14,429 archaeologists worldwide that Proulx found in her research (Proulx 2013: 117)? If one archaeologist such as (Monica Hanna) is reaching over 26,000 with information about looting, imagine how much we’d learn from the 2,355 archaeologists (according to Proulx) who also experienced looting firsthand.

Not sure how to get started? Hear directly from Dr. Hanna when she delivers the free lecture, “Saving Ancient Egypt, One Tweet at a Time: How Social Media is Saving One of the World’s Oldest Civilizations” and accepts the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award on April 10 in New York City.

It is time to become a little more comfortable with publishing via platforms that are not traditional academic journals.  All one has to do is TweetLikeShare. I swear it is that easy.

And remember: “instead of us preserving the antiquities, it is the antiquities that are protecting us. For it is through heritage that we can understand the things around us…” – Dr. Monica Hanna

Modern Day Monuments Men and Women?

With today’s national release of the George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, it is only appropriate to discuss the heroic men and women portrayed by the film’s all-star cast and to ask: Where are today’s Monuments Men and Women?

I attended a conference this fall hosted by The Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage PreservationFordham Law School, and the American Society of International Law (ASIL) entitled “The Monuments Men, Social Media, the Law and Cultural Heritage.” I had seen a trailer for the movie and was excited to see it in theaters, but I had managed to fail to make the connection between the conference’s title and the film’s. Not only was Robert Edsel, the author of the book The Monuments Men and the founder of the Monuments Men Foundation, in attendance, but numerous experts in all fields relating to looting were present as well. I was enlightened on both the World War II initiatives against looting and on modern day efforts to continue the same line of work as those heroes. So before you see the film, or don’t, here are a few reflections on its tale and others that are similar.

While the film focuses on a handful of key figures of the operation, the Monuments Men were actually a group of approximately 345 men and women from 13 different nations. They were experts in the arts and volunteered their services to protect cultural heritage from the destruction of World War II, but they did not act alone. Behind these heroes was The Roberts Commission that reported the invaluable lists and maps on the location of heritage sites and artwork across Europe that were prepared by the American Council of Learned Societies and The Harvard Group to military units. As a collective unit they were able to return more than five million cultural pieces that had been seized by the Nazi regime.

The members of this task force, officially known as the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFAA), performed an unprecedented and overwhelming task, but the memory of their acts drifted from people’s memories. Until, that is, Robert M. Edsel took interest in the subject and created the Monuments Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art to unearth the stories of the individuals who saved masterpieces whose existence we now take for granted. Despite the title of his foundation and book, and Clooney’s adaptation, the “Monuments Men” were, as mentioned, also women. While they were far fewer in number, they were vital to MFAA’s efforts. As Tom Mashberg states in his article “Not all Monuments Men Were Men,” these women “were dedicated scholars and at times notable heroes.”

Monica Hanna save the dateThat description is most apt for Dr. Monica Hanna, who is a truly a modern day Monuments Woman and winner of the SAFE Beacon Award. Like most of the men and women who served in the MFAA section, Dr. Hanna does not have military training, but that hasn’t stop her from putting her life on the line for her work. It is not likely that Dr. Hanna’s efforts will be forgotten due to her strong social media presence on FacebookTwitter, and in the news, but it is important to help share as many stories as possible. Cultural heritage cannot afford to wait another fifty years before someone else is inspired to take interest.

Along with Dr. Hanna, other modern day Monuments Men and Women include anthropologists and cultural resource managers employed by the U.S. Army to enter into war zones and protect or recover pieces from institutions like the National Museum of Iraq. The Smithsonian Institution experts who train the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on identifying looted cultural heritage items should also be included. The stories of these men and women, unfortunately, go largely unreported. It is important for other advocates of the protection of cultural heritage to call attention to their efforts and give them the recognition they deserve.

Who do you nominate as your global Monuments Men and Women?

Monica Hanna to receive 2014 SAFE Beacon Award

The archaeologist Dr. Monica Hanna will be the next recipient of the SAFE Beacon Award for her exemplary efforts in shedding light on the looting situation in Egypt.

Home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations, Egypt has had a profound influence on the cultures of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. For centuries, Egyptian archaeological sites have been looted – most recently to feed the black market trade of antiquities. Despite valiant calls for recovery, invaluable information about Egypt’s ancient past – and our shared history – has been irretrievably lost. Since the 2011 revolution, this situation has become increasingly acute.

While mainstream media reports about the nature and extent of the damage – and those responsible for the damage – have been numerous and sometimes conflicting, we can be thankful for the efforts of “ordinary” Egyptians who have joined together to use social media to keep the rest of the world informed about what is happening to Egypt’s heritage, our shared heritage.

Using social media tools to their fullest potential, Dr. Hanna created and steadfastly maintains Egypt’s Heritage Task Force, while also contributing to other social media platforms. She continues to inform us in lectures and interviews, and she mobilizes others to do the same. In fact, it is impossible for anyone truly concerned about the critical situation in Egypt not to be informed by Dr. Hanna’s dedicated and diligent reporting. This past August, SAFE intern Beatrice Kelly included a small part of Dr. Hanna’s documentation in “How much looting needs to happen before we start to think twice?” and noted:

Indefatigable Egyptian archaeologist Monica Hanna has been single-handedly exposing an incredible amount of looting in Egypt, even going so far as to confront some of the armed looters herself.

And we are paying attention.

With more than than 20,000 followers on Twitter, Dr. Hanna is an inspiration. No wonder Betsy Hiel of the Tribune-Review writes, “Hanna is a leader in exposing the looting of Egyptian antiquities.” Nigel Hetherington of Past Preservers describes her as, “amazing …a revolutionary in the true sense of the word.”

SAFE is honored to present the 2014 Beacon Award to Monica Hanna. In the coming months, we will continue to highlight Dr. Hanna’s important work and roll out our plans for celebration. Please follow us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.

March 21, 2014 UPDATE: Information about the 2014 SAFE Beacon Award can be found here. Dr Hanna’s Twitter followers number more than 28,000.

The SAFE Beacon Awards recognizes outstanding achievement in raising public awareness about our endangered cultural heritage and the devastating consequences of the illicit antiquities trade. Since 2004, awards have been presented to authors, journalists, professors, law enforcement professionals, and archaeologists:

2004 – Roger Atwood

2005 – Matthew Bogdanos 

2006 – Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini

2008 – Neil Brodie and Donny George

2009 – Colin Renfrew

2010 – Robert Goldman, David Hall, James McAndrew, and Robert Wittman

2011 – Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

2012 – David Gill

“Why is it even showing them?” Roger Atwood on the Bourne collection’s fakes and undocumented objects

What do fakes have to do with the problem of looting? Fakes and unprovenanced, authentic antiquities often turn up together in collections because neither was found through the transparent process of archaeological excavation. They flock together.  Collectors might think their connoisseurship protects them from fakes, but they get hoodwinked all the time. This is not a sign of denseness or gullibility, necessarily; it just comes with the territory if you’re in the business of acquiring undocumented antiquities….

Has the collector gained a tax benefit for the donation of what are quite possibly, if the Walters’ analysis is correct, worthless fakes?  Why is it even showing them?

Roger Atwood, author of Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World questions the integrity of Walters Art Museum’s Bourne Collection in a Chasing Aphrodite post. Atwood is also critical of the exhibit’s lack of information, presumably, because the objects were:

all purchased from the cast of looters, dealers and assorted hoodlums that make up the supply end of the Latin American antiquities market. Whatever information those sellers claim to have on the origin of the artifacts they sell is usually conjecture or lies.

The Baltimore museum’s web site states:

The Walters Art Museum preserves and develops in the public trust a distinguished collection of world art from antiquity to the 20th century….Since its opening, the Walters has been a national leader in scholarship, conservation, and education.

Mission Statement
The Walters Art Museum brings art and people together for enjoyment, discovery, and learning. We strive to create a place where people of every background can be touched by art. We are committed to exhibitions and programs that will strengthen and sustain our community.

How well does the Maryland museum serve its stated mission with the Bourne collection?

Indeed, the Walters is not alone in what amounts to a breach of public trust, as Atwood reveals in his 2004 Stealing History which “contributes more than any other publication in more than 30 years to an understanding of the devastation to cultural heritage caused by site looting and to the search for solutions.” Patty Gerstenblith writes in an American Journal of Archaeology review. Atwood was awarded a SAFE Beacon Award for Stealing History.

"Chasing Aphrodite" Fall Book Tour comes to NYC

The 2011 SAFE Beacon Award Winners are busy traveling the East Coast this fall discussing their book, Chasing Aphrodite. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to meet Jason Felch this October in New York City.

Lecture and Book Signing
October 24, 6 pm
Silver Center Room 300
Washington Square East
New York University

“Jason Felch will give a presentation about his non-fiction book Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum, which details how the J. Paul Getty Museum became the epicenter of an unprecedented scandal over the acquisition of looted Greek and Roman antiquities by their Los Angeles Times coverage of the controversy, including stories revealing how the Getty, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and other leading institutions patronized a black market awash in illicit objects. The revelations forced American museums to return more than 100 of their finest antiquities-valued at nearly a billion dollars-to Italy and Greece. Their new book lays bare the roots of the scandal with fly-on-the-wall accounts gleaned from hundreds of additional interviews and internal Getty documents spanning four decades. Their presentation-which includes slides of the key characters and looted objects-will touch on the origins of the scandal, the efforts of senior Getty officials to continue buying looted artifacts while appearing ethical, and the tragic consequences the strategy brought to the museum’s collection and its highly regarded antiquities curator, Marion True. The presentation will also address how the scandal has ushered in a new era of cooperation between Italy and American museums through cultural loans.”

For information about the Fall Book Tour visit the Chasing Aphrodite website.

Made whole, the "Weary Herakles" reunites in Turkey

At last, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has returned the top half of the “Weary Herakles” to Turkey, as previously suggested here. The agreement to transfer ownership of the statue was signed on September 23, between the Museum and the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage and Museums of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey.

According to the Museum’s press release, the “agreement acknowledged that the MFA acquired the object in good faith and without knowledge of any ownership or title issues[italics added]. It also provided for the transfer of the object, which took place after the signing.”

The return of the Weary Herakles to Turkey, preceded by the repatriation of antiquities from Italy by the Metropolitan Museum (shortly before the publication of the 2006 book The Medici Conspiracy by SAFE Beacon Award recipients Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini) and the return of antiquities to Greece and Italy by the Getty Museum (as discussed in the book Chasing Aphrodite by 2011 SAFE Beacon Award recipients Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino), confirms the long-held belief at SAFE that ownership “without knowledge of any ownership or title issues” is not a position that a principled institution or collector can maintain or defend. See our Statement of Principles. Let’s hope the practice of acquiring unprovenanced artifacts without asking questions is truly coming to an end.

And the SAFE Beacon Award Winners are…

2011: Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino - SAFE honors investigative journalists and co-authors of Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum (read Professor Senta German’s review here) for assembling “an extraordinary array of sources with which they tell a story the Getty wants no one to know” and for educating the public about how museum practices affect the preservation of cultural heritage.

2012: David Gill – Professor Gill has worked tirelessly for decades to shed light on the multiple threats to cultural heritage through teaching, research, publication and the trailblazing Looting Matters. An archaeologist and scholar of ancient history and the classics, Professor Gill is also a SAFECORNER Contributor.

Established in 2006, SAFE Beacon Awards recognize individuals who enlighten the public about the devastating effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade. Awards have been presented to authors, professors, law enforcement professionals, and archaeologists. We look forward to honoring others who lead the way in the fight to protect cultural heritage.



Previous winners include:

2004 – Roger Atwood

2005 – Matthew Bogdanos

2006 – Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini

2008 – Neil Brodie and Donny George

2009 – Colin Renfrew

2010 – Robert Goldman, David Hall, James McAndrew, and Robert Wittman

To learn more about the SAFE Beacon Awards and to stay up to date with the latest awards news, visit and “like” our SAFE Beacon Awards facebook page.

Remembering Donny George: A Tribute from SAFE

All those concerned about preserving our ancient past felt a chill down the spine upon hearing the news of Donny George’s sudden passing. Whether or not they knew him in person, a sense of loss was palpable within the community. On March 11, 2011, we lost a colleague and a friend. We also lost an eloquent advocate and a powerful—if gentle—warrior in the fight against the destruction of cultural heritage.

I met Donny for the first time at the 2005 AIA Annual Meeting in Boston. (Six years later this past January, Donny emailed from this year’s Meeting in San Antonio to tell me he was disappointed that there was no SAFE booth there.) In between attending sessions, Donny found respite at the SAFE booth. There, we chatted about how best to accomplish our mission. At our first major event at the booth, Donny offered his encouragement: “The work that SAFE is doing is critical, not only for Iraq’s cultural heritage, but also for the heritage of all mankind. All those who enjoy the benefits of democracy have a duty to stand up and support those actions that will stop the destruction of history.” These words will stay with me forever.

Months later, SAFE was invited to spend a day in New York City with Donny and two of his colleagues from the Iraq Museum. We visited the New York Public Library and looked at some of their Ancient Near Eastern holdings, and shared an intimate dinner at one of our members’ apartment. At the end of the evening, Donny spoke about the dangers he faced, just to go to work. Every day, he said, his car had to take a different route to the Museum. As he expressed a sad uncertainty about the future, he invited us to visit Iraq one day. Donny had become a part of SAFE.

It was with great relief and joy that we welcomed Donny and his wife Najat to the US.,in a gathering of friends in 2007. That same day, Donny and Najat heard that his children, who were still in Damascus, would be joining them soon. The family had been separated in exile.

Donny’s interest in SAFE was not only in theory; he embraced our ideas with his time and action, and became a true partner. It was in this collaborative spirit that the Global Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum was born. Since 2007, individuals and organizations around the world listened when Donny called on us to light a candle to memorialize the looting of the Iraq Museum: “Let’s gather together and see what we can do, so people will not forget what happened.” Donny also personally led vigils in New York and Chicago, and invited the staff of the Iraq Museum to join the campaign in 2007 and 2008.

Donny also participated in SAFE’s programs with a podcast interview, and two very special SAFE Tours in the halls of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. Donny moved audiences at the Bancroft School and the Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 2008, we were fortunate to have honored Donny with a SAFE Beacon Award.

He was genuinely interested in our work. One of the most special moments, was when Donny took a train from Stony Brook to attend a SAFE meeting in New York City, and sat with us—academics, professionals and students alike—chatting, and plotting our next strategies and programs. No matter how mundane the topic being discussed was, Donny was engaged and offered to help. He was one of the earliest members on our Facebook group, and served as an Advisor.

Donny was concerned about Iraq’s cultural heritage, he also advocated publicly for the cultural heritage of other nations. On behalf of Cyprus, he wrote a letter in support of the inclusion of coins in the US/Cyprus bilateral agreement in 2007. Two years later, he added his name to a Statement of Concern and Appeal for International Cooperation to Save Ancient Kashgar.

One of Donny’s greatest concerns was to prevent what happened to the Iraq Museum from happening to any other museums, anywhere else. Just this February, Donny spoke to me about the Cairo Museum: “Yes it was so painful, renewing every moment of those days in Iraq Museum. I sent an e-mail to Dr Zahi Hawass, showing my solidarity, and offering any help they need through his blog.”

We will miss working with Donny, but we are thankful that the work that we did together and his message will always stay with us. We heard you.

Cindy Ho
SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

Donny George – a man of knowledge, courage and grace

The following citation was originally published in January, 2008 in the SAFE Beacon Award Souvenir Journal when we honored Dr. George:

“I am simply doing my duty. I believe that if the time comes, I am ready to sacrifice my life to save any item of Cultural Property anywhere in the world. But what I am sure of is that I am not alone in this.”

Born in Habbania, al-Anbar Province, on October 23, 1950, Dr. Donny George developed a relationship with the landscape of Iraq as a youth that inspired a lifetime of study of ancient cultures as both a scholar and archaeologist that has motivated colleagues around the world for more than three decades.

While pursuing his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Baghdad, where he received his M.A. in Archaeology in 1986, Dr. George began his career at the Iraq Museum in 1976, where he held various positions. These include Director of the Documentation Center in 1980 and Field Director for the Babylon Restoration Project from 1986 through 1987. He conducted archaeological investigations in the eastern wall at Nineveh in 1988 and 1989 and served as Scientific Supervisor for the Bekhmeh Dam Archaeological Rescue Project (northern Iraq) in 1989. He was appointed Assistant Director General of Antiquities for the Scientific Affairs department in 1995, the same year he received his Ph.D. in Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Baghdad. During 1999 and 2000, Dr. George directed the excavation team at Um al-Agarib (southern Iraq) and served as head of the Technical Committee at the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (which analyzes artifacts brought to the Iraq Museum voluntarily by the Iraqi citizens).

From 2000 to 2003 Dr. George served as Director General of the Department of Research and Studies at the Iraq Museum. He witnessed the fall of Baghdad, endured the subsequent looting of the Iraq Museum in April 2003, and played a central role in the restoration of the Museum and the recovery of nearly half of the estimated 15,000 artifacts stolen from the Museum and archaeological sites.

In recognition of his service, Dr. George was appointed Director-General of the Iraqi Museums in November 2003 and became a member of the Iraqi National Committee for Education, Science, and Culture in January 2004. In 2005, he left his position at the Iraqi Museums when he was appointed President of the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, a position he held until he was forced to flee Iraq in August of 2006. He simultaneously held two academic positions as Lecturer Professor for Computer and Archaeology, Documentation, Anthropology, and Prehistory in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Baghdad, and Lecturer Professor at the College of Babylon for Theology and Philosophy.

His unique skills, knowledge of ancient Mesopotamian cultures, extensive field experience, and unflappable personality allowed Dr. George to rise above the tragic events that occurred in Iraq after the 1991 war and the events since 2003. The looting of the Baghdad Museum has attracted considerable media attention to the destruction of cultural heritage and the illicit antiquities trade worldwide, and has given Dr. George the audience that a lifetime of training and experience has equipped him to address. He is now a major force in bringing the world’s attention to the ruination of Iraq’s archaeological landscape, through his participation in conferences organized by Interpol, ICOM, AIA and UNESCO. He has given presentations on the conditions of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq at conferences and symposia at the British Museum and at UNESCO in Paris, Vienna, Essen and Mainz. He has also spoken at the “Archaeology in Times of War” conference in Bonn (2003), at meetings of the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale in London (2003), for the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies at the Royal Ontario Museum, and at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. He also maintains an active schedule of public speeches across the U.S. and has conducted interviews with various publications as well as PBS’s “Charlie Rose” program.

Dr. George is also a prolific author, having written Tell Es-Sawwan: Architecture of the Sixth Millennium B.C. (London, 1996) and The Stone Industries in Tell Es-Sawwan (London, 2005), as well as contributing to The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia (New York, 2005) and the forthcoming Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War (New York, 2008). He remains an active member of Interpol’s International Regional Committee, the German Archaeological Institute, the Society for American Archaeology, and is an Honorary Member of the Archaeological Institute of America. He currently holds the position of Visiting Professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Colin Renfrew asks: What about ongoing looting?

Professor Colin Renfrew, 2009 SAFE Beacon Award Winner voiced his concerns that the problems of ongoing looting of archaeological sites around the world were not addressed in the lecture Looted art and its restitution: moral and cultural dilemmas for the twenty-first century, given by Professor Richard J Evans on Monday 7 June 2010 at Wolfson College, Cambridge. Professor Renfrew also spoke about the fact that although repatriation of looted antiquities from Iraq were mentioned, no reference was made about “the Metropolitan Museum’s being constrained to return antiquities to Italy, which had been illegally removed… in recent times.” (View video clip here. © Wolfson College, Cambridge)

Professor Evans focused on historical looting giving examples dating back to Jason and the Argonauts, and issues related to repatriation and restitution of Nazi art loot. Also brought up was contentious topic of the Parthenon sculptures, more commonly (but some believe, misguidedly) known as the “Elgin marbles” and whether they should be returned was the first question from the audience. Professor Evans will become Wolfson College’s fifth president in October, 2010.

SAFE Beacon Awards: Who is…? but why?

In anticipation of our Beacon Awards event, SAFE has launched a new batch of Who is…? campaigns, which profile individuals making tangible contributions towards our mission: protecting and raising awareness about our shared cultural heritage.

But we realize that our “Who is…?” begs another question: Why?

The easy answer is that superheroes like our SAFE Beacon Award winners deserve recognition for their incredible work.

The more complicated answer is that our award winners, well, are not superheroes. SAFE is not handing out awards to the likes of Lara Croft or Indiana Jones for making us endlessly answer to their portrayals of archaeologists (or archaeology’s worst nightmares?). Instead we are honoring unsung heroes with real lives, families, careers, principles, and motivations behind them.

Certainly, fictional heroes can lend a welcome cloak of sexiness to a sometimes-unsexy field. And they can be inspiring. Christopher Heaney, a former SAFE volunteer, devoted the first few pages of his excellent debut book, Cradle of Gold, to Indy and the iconic big screen moments that first sparked his interest in archaeology.

Heaney even calls the subject of his work, Hiram Bingham, a “Real-Life Indiana Jones,” and for good reason, too. Bingham was an academic and explorer of the early 20th century, equipped with a pith helmet and a gun.

He made major contributions to the growing field of Latin American studies and worked his way through the Peruvian Andes to rediscover the most famous lost city of the Incas — Machu Picchu. Bingham’s questionable archaeological practices, however, fueled the emotional debate over Yale’s collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts.

So how many more “Real-Life Indiana Jonses” do we need today? Some of our Beacon Award winners have found themselves working undercover with smugglers in Peru, and all have taken enormous risks, at times, putting their careers and lives on the line. But their boulder chases and snake pits sometimes look more like pesky bureaucrats and thousands of pages of federal code.

We congratulate Robert K. Wittman, Robert E. Goldman, James E. McAndrew, and David Hall — our 2010 SAFE Beacon Award Winners. We hope you’ll keep checking our website to find out who they really are, and that you’ll join us at our awards ceremony on October 29th!


Roger Atwood launches new Web site

Roger Atwood has been writing on art, archaeology and museums since the late 1990s in books and articles. His new Web site collects much of that writing along with photos, a bio, and excerpts of reviews of his SAFE Beacon Award winning book Stealing History. The book was the inspiration for SAFE Tours, which Roger has given since 2004.

SAFECORNR congratulates Roger on this user-friendly and well organized resource. Check it out at www.rogeratwood.com.

Photo: Werner Romero

Colin Renfrew asks for clarity in New York City

Following his rousing lecture in Philadelphia at the 2009 SAFE Beacon Award Lecture & Reception Professor Colin Renfrew will be speaking tomorrow at a lecture in New York City entitled “Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: a Time for Clarity” at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, located conveniently at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. Prof. Renfrew will argue that a point of crisis has been reached in the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage, and that this can be met only by a general agreement not to acquire unprovenanced antiquities.

We invite all those who have questions for Prof. Renfrew about his position on these matters to take advantage of this rare opportunity and attend this lecture, which is free and open to the public. (Photo: Collin O’Brien)

"AAMD members should be more transparent about acquisitions"

On Looting Matters today, David Gill wrote:

“The AAMD needs to resolve the issue of long-term loans of archaeological material. And AAMD members should be more transparent about acquisitions and learn to respond to requests for information.”

Professor Colin Renfrew’s Jan 10 Beacon Award Lecture in Philadelphia and Jan 15 in New York will touch upon these issues.

SAFECORNER wishes all a very Happy New Year.

2009 SAFE Beacon Award Recipient Prof. Colin Renfrew: "I’m much in favour of collecting…"

“…so long as it doesn’t involve objects recently taken from the ground. In my opinion all too many collections are scandalous for this very reason. I don’t mind so much people buying antiquities looted a century ago, but not if the items in question entered the market post-1970 when the convention on the illegal trade in antiquities was signed.” Professor Renfrew said in Sarah Jan Checkland’s article in the Financial Times My favourite things in which he was described as “archaeologist and campaigner against the trade in illicit antiquities.”

This coming January, Prof. Renfrew will receive the 2009 SAFE Beacon Award in a rare visit to the United States. He will give a lecture “Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: the 1970 Rule as a Turning Point (or How the Metropolitan Museum lags behind the Getty)” and also discuss the ethics of excavating and collecting, and the merits of the once popular but now rare “partage” system in the SAFE Tour “Collecting the Right Way” at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Photo: Ben Stansall