ISIS's War on Cultural Heritage & the Modern Day Monuments Men Fighting to Stop Them

this is kick-ass politics I'm Ben Mathis kick-ass politics is sponsored by Fiverr you've heard me rave about five or before that's fiver with two R's fiver is the world's largest online marketplace for services with over a hundred categories all offered at a fixed base price of just five bucks logo design business consulting marketing business cards and stationery Web Design translation proofreading legal consulting and just about any other service you can imagine all offered at a fixed base price of just five bucks and right now if you go to kick-ass and click on the fiver ad on our sponsor page you'll be showing your support for the show and you'll get some great offers on services tailored to your needs whatever you need done find it on Fiverr and before we start the show I want to ask for you the listeners help with a special project over the next few weeks we're going to be doing a listener survey to get a better idea of who our audience is no matter how long you've been a listener or how frequently you listen to the show we'd like to get to know you better and what you want so I hope you'll visit our website at kickass and click on the listener survey link on the homepage or there's a survey link in the show notes to this episode it'll only take 60 seconds we won't ask for your personal information or put you on some list I'm not gonna call you up at supper time or fill your email with spam I promise in fact you can even fill out the survey anonymously if you want it's just a few quick questions to help us understand who's listening and seriously it'll be a huge huge help to me personally thanks in advance folks and now enjoy the podcast welcome to kick-ass politics I'm Ben Mathis in the past month the murder of a Syrian archaeologist by Isis terrorists and the senseless destruction of two temples at the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Palmyra sent shockwaves through the archaeological community and drew huge media attention to what very well may be the biggest threat to the world's shared cultural heritage since world war two these maniacs of the so called Islamic state are rampaging through Syria and Iraq blowing up historic monuments and priceless ancient statues and what they don't destroy they loot and sell on the black market in what is now their second biggest revenue source only behind oil my guests on the podcast today are the men leading the charge to stop Isis's war on cultural heritage and rescue some of the most important treasures of the ancient world before it's too late dr. Umar al Azam is an associate professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio before coming to the u.s. he served as the director of scientific and conservation laboratories at the general Department of Antiquities and museums in Syria and as head of the center for archaeological research at the University of Damascus since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war he's become an active member of the Syrian opposition those are the good guys folks and he's chairman of the Heritage Task Force which seeks to prevent the looting and destruction of Syrian monuments and antiquities and later in the show I'll talk with Roger Michael jr. he's the founder and executive director of the Institute for digital archaeology which is using some high-tech gadgets to catalog ancient monuments and artefacts in hopes of recovering and restoring them one day for future generations folks if you thought Indiana Jones had his hands full with those Nazis then just listen to what these men have to say about their race to protect the ancient wonders of the world before they're wiped off the face of the planet by a psychopathic terrorist army hell-bent on destruction coming up in just a moment from Hollywood to Washington it's time for kick-ass politics and now here's your host Ben Mathis dr. Umar al Azam is currently associate professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio and he's chairman of the Syrian opposition Syrian heritage task force dr. al awesome you were one of the leading archaeologists in Syria prior to the outbreak of civil war you've personally excavated and explored many of these sites including the ancient city of Palmyra what went through your mind when you saw this video in the news of Isis tearing through Palmyra blowing up these magnificent nearly thousand-year-old temples of Bel and Baal Shamin well obviously I'm devastated I mean Palmyra is really one of our most important archaeological sites and a very important symbol of Syria's long and and very rich you know cultural heritage in particular Palmyra you know has because of its location in the desert it's an oasis in the desert it means that it has unique precipitation conditions due to the very arid climate there and so the preservation is very high and it's been an amazing site that has yielded so much information and knowledge about the period that it represents which is primarily the you know this is retorno the Roman period here from first century to third century maybe remember Palmyra is a site that essentially encompasses an entire Roman city so there are many public buildings you know palaces and so forth and they are all under threat at the moment somewhere along the way you said that the ancient city of Palmyra and probably other historic sites are in relative safety and Isis is not completely destroying them because they plan on using those cities as I guess the equivalent of a human shield if if the Allies go after them yes they do and we have evidence of that they would use or they have plans to use at least some parts of Palmyra for that but we also know that they're already using the site of Rafa near Raqqa which is a rasathi is a is this large palace complex dating back from the Byzantine and you know early Islamic period you might period they're using the citadel of java and they understand the importance of of these sites and they also know that they can be used as a safe haven from coalition airstrikes besides Palmyra what are some of the worst cases of Isis's destruction of historical sites in Syria and Iraq obviously some of the most most prominent as in you know because these are the sites that Isis has not only destroyed but have made a public spectacle of their destruction that includes the museum and Mosul in Iraq the site of Hydra anonym Rood and where we saw those giant lamassu those winged lion you know statues with a human head being sort of taken down and destroyed with angle grinders and sledge hammers in Syria you know the most prominent thus far has been the blowing up of the the you know the temple of bel and just before that the temple of Bausch I mean but there is also another very important area of destruction that's occurring and by Isis and others and that's as a result of the looting the the ongoing looting of archaeological sites which Isis and when it started to take over these large areas essentially came upon this looting and institutionalized it and it's a and you know accelerated the process and intensified it yeah essentially raise it to an industrial level the damage is incredible as well right and I believe that those were the exact words that the director of UNESCO used she said it was looting on an industrial scale so then break it down for us walk us through the journey of a stolen Syrian artifact from the looting to the end buyer it starts off with the looters on on a site once they've recovered or uncovered a piece that say it's a piece of mosaic a mosaic floor they will remove it and then they begin the process of counting or if you want it essentially showing the piece to prospective buyers or the Communists way this is done is through a telephone application and as whatsapp where you can send images and text messages for free and you can upload fairly large images through that that's why it's very popular if the buyer is interested a lengthy process will or negotiation will begin with the tout in the hope of you know getting a as much information as they can about the piece and in the case of the middleman here trying to make sure that you know he gets the best possible Commission for himself out of the deal eventually at some point the owners of the of the actual looted item and the buyer will meet this can occur in in Turkey or in some cases in Lebanon you know Lebanon is a much more established exit route for Syrian antiquities then you know obviously there's many more negotiations and if the deal is struck the object is handed over to the buyer and then it's up to the buyer to sort of figure out how they're going to get it out of the country that said a lot of the buyers are dealers themselves or representatives of you know I would say wealthy collectors who then have their own well-established means of moving the the artifact that they have purchased very little I would like to say of these artifacts is actually showing up on the internal international market as yet well in in some cases because there is so much scrutiny that's being put on these sales many of these antiquities are going to buyers who have the resources to be able to store that purchase for 10 to 15 years before even considering putting it back on the market does this give you some concern that that you may never see these things again and by the time they read urghhh no one will care frankly but that's exactly what we think is happening this is the patent okay we've seen it before with the Iraqi looted antiquities from 2003 to 2005 only now are some of these pieces slowly beginning to you know seep out or come out onto the market the buyers as I just mentioned you are probably specialized dealers who have let's say deep enough pockets or the ability to acquire these objects sit on them for 5 10 15 years possibly even longer to wait for the attention on these pieces to die down or just sort of be distracted elsewhere then these pieces will maybe get sold on a few times just to make sure that they acquire some sort of provenance some sort of sales history and every sale or every transaction essentially moves it one step further away from its rather unfortunate origin and as it does so it also increases its value so you're probably going to see these pieces sit for quite a long time in someone's basement and if they do get sold all I'll get salt another dealer who's willing to also sit on them it's a process of laundering if you're money laundering you know you're washing these pieces out until they lose that kind of fresh out of the earth field to them they lose that kind of smell of I come from our looted side and they acquire a little more respectability and then eventually you might see them coming back onto the mainstream market through one of the main auction houses it certainly is an elaborate process and they seem to have some kind of infrastructure to all this I was interested to read that you've been doing some undercover work of your own here and luring out these shady dealers trafficking in stolen artifacts without giving away too many secrets tell me this as a guy here in America with no real contacts in the antiquities market armed with nothing but a computer how easy would it be for me to find some one who will sell me looted Syrian or Iraqi artifacts online I think it's fairly easy most of these middlemen if you want this is how most of this information arrives those are these middlemen usually as soon as they hear that someone is interested they will immediately photographs or images through whatsapp of whatever available material they have for sale and you know word will get around that your your an interested person and and you get that any month a lot of us get these images all the time and some of them actually openly advertise on Facebook there are at least a couple of Facebook sites I believe which seem to come on and then disappear because you know Facebook realizes what's going on they shut them you know they closed down the accounts and then they reopen again so it's it's not that difficult for your average person to actually know get access to this information without too much trouble I should say so in your investigations have it has it been a case where you contact them or they contact you sometimes it's us who contact them sometimes it's them who contact us it's not such a secretive thing well once you make contact with the middleman or a dealer and you identify something is stolen what's the next step for you well there's not much we can do about it remember we're not a law enforcement agent I am NOT a law enforcement agency I have no jurisdiction I can't go out and play cops and robbers on someone else's patch yeah for me the prime purpose of getting this information is to just create a database or a record of what's out there that's being stolen and then sold in the hope that one day we may be able to recover it yeah and one of the ironies of all this is that this explosion of stolen artifacts on the black market most of which if pretty dubious provenance has also given birth to a huge boom in the business of counterfeits here in an Iraqi artifacts are comes out of as a roaring industry in making freight coins in Bulgaria they'll then come out of Bulgaria they're all gets mixed in and then the next thing you know you're being offered this hoard of coins maybe 2/3 of fake and maybe 1/3 of real well in a weird way does this kind of help your cause if it makes dealers more skeptical of goods coming out of there yes it does because the more the waters get muddied the more difficult it is for dealers to kind of figure out what's real what's not real the harder it gets for these dealers to sell stuff on remember this is very much a supply and demand driven market as well if there's too much supply then you know the demand kind of gets sort of confused and and it goes down if there's not enough supply then the demand will go up so we know what motivates all the looting but explain what it is about the religious ideology of Isis that's behind so much of this senseless destruction of so many ancient statues and historic sites I think it's important for us to distinguish between the different types of destructive acts that Isis commits and that's the one that specifically targets you know Shiite Islamic shrines or religious monuments or buildings that are belong to other religions other sects you know this takes its self back to their Salafist Wahhabist roots where they believe that Islam has somehow become polluted through this these practices that have somehow crept in which they consider to be an Islamic and that they have to be purged they have to be eliminated and only through such a process can the true Islam the Islam of if you want the Prophet Muhammad will then shine through and through that then Islam will regain its all glories and so for them that act of eliminating everything that they considered to be heretical schism a day or an Islamic from their own perspective becomes an S react that's one type of destruction that they can but then there's another type of destruction when it comes to the destruction of ancient sites and artifacts from museums what they're doing here is they're committing what I refer to as an atrocity class action the specific purpose here is to demonstrate Isis's ability to act with impunity and the impotence of the international community to respond often these actions these atrocities whether they're against cultural heritage or against the types of executions when they take people in orange jumpsuits and they you know they they put them in cages and set them on fire or drown them all of these are part of the same repertoire and they serve the same purpose and ultimately Isis uses them before propaganda purposes and also to deflect attention away perhaps from military setbacks that there may have recently suffered on the battlefield or just to remind that their own public and the world at large that they're still there and they're still powerful that's fascinating because you know the justification they keep using is for all the destruction of particularly of statues is that it son Islamic this whole thing of idolatry is that just an excuse is it is it really not ideological it's just propaganda in my opinion I believe that it is simply because look at all their atrocity class actions whether it's jihadi john' beheading a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit or it's a group of Isis fighters going into a museum and smashing up its contents there's always some sort of religious justification for to justify the committing of the atrocity so the atrocity is not committed to fulfill a religious need the justification comes on over the the atrocity to try and justify why they had to commit the atrocity and that's there's a big difference with that so yeah so all of these lofty ideals that they use to justify all of this is just really a lie well it's not so much a lot as much as a abuse of the justification yeah let's put it this way because did you know the fact that idols should be destroyed is part of their belief system but does that extend to you know cultural heritage no it does not it extends to the worship of idols our people worshipping these idols today no they're not so there's no reason for them to destroy them that's a good point it's it's very bogus and like I said the justification you know they commit an atrocity and somehow they need to justify it to themselves and to their people so they add a sort of they superimpose this justification on the atrocity they're not committing the atrocities to fulfill a religious requirement because it doesn't work that way well a moment ago you mentioned the fact that the the international community isn't doing enough in the past year the UN passed a resolution banning the sale of stolen artifacts from Syria and Iraq and the US Congress followed suit with similar legislation banning the important sale of looted objects what more do you think needs to be done at that level at that level I think in the sense of passing these resolutions I mean these are very important landmarks and I think the fact that now both sellers and buyers are going to be held accountable for their actions I think that's very important but will not have an immediate impact on preventing or stopping looting no it won't looting is happening very very far away from where these auctions or where this buying and selling is occurring but when I talk about needing to do more I'm talking about supporting those people on the ground today that are actually trying to save this cultural heritage I'm talking about the young men and women the archeologists the museum curators the activists who are risking their lives going out trying to document these violations this looting they're trying to protect their museums that the doing what they can and I'm talking about supporting these people and ultimately if we really want to stop this carnage of heritage it can only be stopped if we also stop the carnage that is befallen the people who are part of this heritage so if you really want to talk about doing something to end this then we have to also do something about ending war in Syria and in Iraq and so and so forth and that's something you know far great far larger than you know anything that we can sort of say or discuss here that that's a very big topic it's all right well you mentioned these people who are actually over there in Syria risking their lives to rescue these artifacts and sites you're working very closely with them tell me more about who they are and the kind of things that they're doing on the ground there you know in Syria there are numerous young men and women archeologists museum curators and and activists who believe that their cultural heritage is worth saving and so they risk their lives every day going out there trying to document violations acts of looting or damage being caused by the actual conflict itself and in some cases they even managed to maybe save an item here or a piece of antiquity there one of our best examples comes from the city of madra has a small local museum in that museum there happens to be one of the most important collections of mosaics in Syria it comes from the UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites of the Dead cities and the collection in there is absolutely fabulous but because the city of Marah has been subjected to a very intensive bio bombing campaign for the last year and a half we both we outside and more importantly the local archaeology and activists in the city of Marah were very concerned about the safety of these mosaics in the end we managed to put together a small fund that would help pay for the sandbagging of the museum a few months later after we finished sandbagging the museum that museum was Beryl and destroyed a part of the museum and but the mosaics were all saved those mosaics that were sandbagged inside the museum were all saved the important ones and because of their efforts and it's really not an exaggeration when we say that they are risking their lives because just a couple of weeks ago as many people probably saw in the news a very prominent Syrian archeologist named Khalid Assad refused to tell Isis where he and others had hidden supposedly hundreds of ancient statues and as a result Isis beheaded him and hung his mutilated body from one of the ancient columns in Palmyra as a warning to others now Khalid Assad was a friend in a colleague of yours what went through your mind when you heard about his murder he was a colleague of mine I mean first of all you know it's a terrible loss and the man really had you know an incredible amount of knowledge of Palmyra of the sword that you can only acquire through practical experience of being there for so many decades and we've lost that in terms of the hidden loot and treasure we know that the the Museum in Palmyra was evacuated you know hours before Isis kind of moved into the city so and we know of archaeologists you know arrested and questioned in other towns and cities in Syria under Isis control and now fortunately for them they were later released in the case of headless odd he was released and riah rested and finally executed yeah I mean it's a horrible horrible tragedy that these monsters have committed but hopefully thanks to the work that you and others are doing he won't have died in vain well doctor Allah some thank you for coming on the show and thanks for everything that you're doing to protect the world's cultural heritage from these mad ghouls before we go to break I was very interested in what dr. Elam had to say about just how easy it is to procure stolen antiquities from Syria online so I decided to see for myself just how easy it might be for a guy like me with no connections in the antiquities trade whatsoever to track down and purchase stolen artifacts from Syria first I went on Facebook and I found a number of Facebook page and private groups that appear to be advertising ancient Assyrian Roman Sumerian Mesopotamian artifacts coins in statuary that appeared to have come from Syria and Iraq now some of them are more discreet than others some disguised their pages as educational sites that mix in photos of antiques from say the British Museum with photos of items that are available by inquiry I also took a gander on eBay where I found coins and antiquities even coming from the very cities that Isis is sacked like Mosul and Hatra I'll post some photos of these listings in the show notes on the website and you can judge for yourself certainly there are red flags there and don't be fooled when they say it comes with a certificate of authenticity first of all anyone can print up a certificate of authenticity it isn't worth the paper it's printed on and that only guarantees that the piece isn't fake that's not a certificate of provenance and it doesn't show chain of custody of the piece and it doesn't protect you one bit against knowingly or unknowingly purchasing stolen goods so as the ancients would say caveat emptor my friends caveat emptor well we're gonna take a quick break and then when I come back I'll talk with a man named Roger Michael who's head of a group that's putting cutting-edge technology into the hands of everyday Syrians and Iraqis in an effort to beat Isis to the punch and save some of the world's most precious historical treasures before it's too late coming up after the break this portion of the podcast is brought to you by audible audible has over a hundred and eighty thousand audiobooks available to download for your iPhone Android Kindle or mp3 player and right now kickass politics listeners can get a free audiobook download in a free 30-day trial just go to audible trial calm or click on the sponsor link on our web page at kickass and go get your free audiobook and if you like kick-ass politics and want to help keep us on the air then please support the show by making a donation to our GoFundMe campaign at backslash kick-ass politics or go to the show website and click on the donate link your support will help keep us producing new and interesting programs in the future that's go fund backslash kick-ass politics and now back to the show welcome back in the second half of the podcast I'm talking with Roger Michael jr. the founder and executive director of the Institute for digital archaeology Roger you're behind something called the million image database project which is being called a modern-day version of the monuments men who were the soldiers who rescued stolen art from the Nazis in World War two I have to say on the one hand I wish that there wasn't this urgent need for a program like this but there's also this techie geeks side of me who thinks wow this is really really a cool idea so Roger tell me more about what the idea is doing with this project well I think you're right it really has captivated people's imagination in a way that I I couldn't have anticipated I also agree with you that it is a very sad situation that were even involved in this enterprise to give you a little background of what we're doing today as part of the million image database project is more or less what the organization has been doing throughout its entire history that is to say we've been involved in the high technology imaging business and its intersection with archeology since the outset it was about I guess nine months ago we realized that our work and documenting a pig Rafi that is subscriptions and archaeological objects in the field could play a significant role in cultural heritage preservation and it was at about that time that I conceived of the million image database project specifically the idea of flooding the region with these low-cost easy-to-use three-dimensional cameras that would allow for 3d captures and create the possibility down the road of recreations and so we entered into a collaboration with Oxford University with whom we have collaborated in the past number of successful ventures specifically with dr. Alexi Karin osku on the physics faculty there she and her team did a great job of coming up with both hardware and software that was well adapted to this purpose sitting here today nine months later we have a great product to bring camera order in the mail by the thousands from our Factory in China and getting them to our associates in the field in Iran Iraq Afghanistan Syria Yemen Afghanistan Turkey Jordan and very high hopes for meeting all of the benchmarks for success that we've established so this project isn't just limited to Syria absolutely not in fact I'm sure you've seen the very disheartening satellite imagery coming out of Syria today indicating that the temple of Bel and most of the important architectural features of how air and now a lion in rubble in the city so unfortunately from some of those searing insights this project has come along too late but in fact as you say our mandate is much broader than that the enterprise is much broader than that and we intend to do our best to capture as many images as we can throughout the Middle East of these important sites our hope is to have a million images of the bank by the end of this year and five to ten million images in the bank by at the end of 2016 jump back to palmyra i said it may not be too late for that site because in the last three to four weeks as it became clear that we were not going to get into mira anyway time to capture 3d images of that site with open possibly recreations in the future we got to work on the possibility of using the existing 2d photographs from that site it's been very well documented over the years by my scholars and my folks will visited the site and to see if we couldn't using the the the mass of 2d imagery that we have creates some 3d models of the important structures on the site and I can tell you today we are nearly a hundred percent confident in fact I'll say a hundred percent confident that we will be able to using the 2d images create 3d models that we can incorporate into our 3d database and that could be used for three-dimensional recreations in the future Wow well that's really good news so who are you trying to get these cameras to on the ground and how do you even begin to get them in the right hands in the middle of an ongoing civil war in places like Syria and Iraq to answer your question we're working at both ends of a very big spectrum so at one end we're working with UNESCO and so they will be assisting us with distribution efforts using their infrastructure and of course I you know it's major international NGO they have a lot of boots on the ground as it were we're very hopeful that they will be of great assistance in getting large numbers of cameras into the field and we'll all are also working with smaller organizations that are still in that NGO end of the spectrum like there's one in Oxford call enhanced archaeology we struck a partnership with them they'll be providing us with two hundred thousand images from Jordan so so large organizations like that are going to be valuable in this task at the other end of the spectrum mr. al Schuler is working with collaborators that we have been working with over the course of the history of our organization that is over the last five to six years and these are local antiquary societies small museums local archaeologists embedded archaeologists from other countries so it's going to be a long list of lots of individuals who are going to be handling cameras a half dozen at a time perhaps passing them along to their associates with some sites with many of the smaller site sessions I think each site is going to have its own particular story in terms of how the camera got into the site and how the images were collected so it's an interesting study in contrast on one end we're dealing with folks like UNESCO who are consummate professionals and undertaking things like this on this scale and at the other end we're dealing with individuals like like mr. al-assad were just passionate about their local cultural patrimony and are willing to do whatever it takes to preserve it well so these cameras are particularly easy to operate then that was part of the brief that we gave to dr. Karin Oscar when we passed her with producing the hardware and the software for this project we needed a camera that was discreet robust that resembled an ordinary camera so we wouldn't call any unnecessary attention to the user and we also needed a camera that was simple to use basically point-and-shoot and we also needed a internet interface a Wi-Fi interface that was going to be more or less automatic so we've done I think she's done a fabulous job with with that the camera is all of the things that I've just described it it seems to be working well the official reports are very good the Wi-Fi interface seems to be working so so this is that that we I think we've hit a homerun on the on the technical side having said that you know perforce we're getting thousands of cameras into the field some folks said well gee you don't have how high is the quality how good is the resolution needless to say if we have these objects in the laboratory and we're using state-of-the-art laser driven 3d imaging scanners we'd obviously get a higher degree of resolution but in terms of what we're trying to accomplish to document these objects to create the possibility for recreations especially architectural recreations in the future there's plenty of resolution there and more important these cameras are of a type that can be as you say used effectively by relatively unskilled users well I was also interested when you said that they're discrete because I'll tell you my concern would be it won't take very long yeah for Isis to figure out what these things are and if 5,000 Syrians suddenly start popping up with some fancy piece of technology that sticks out like a sore it's just gonna put a target on their backs so these are these are buried they do they look like ordinary cheapo cameras yes exactly the factory where they're being produced is using as the base for the housing and so forth a very commonly used camera housing in among inexpensive consumer grade digital cameras so these are their will they will at a glance look like any other small handheld digital camera that any the average person might have and indeed these sites are always filled with people who are taking pictures quite a common occurrence that you can imagine so we've done everything we could a master on and people certainly understand the risks very well as mr. al-assad demonstrated in in Palmyra week before last people are willing to take chances to preserve something that they feel is a significant part of their history and of their daily personal experience well there's no doubt that these people that you're working with they're risking their lives for this let's talk about you know worst case scenario you know hopefully you never have to even use these images but worst case scenario Isis or whoever destroys a temple or some kind of monument and you have to then rebuild it talk about that process on the other end with the 3d imaging you know what I would say just first very quickly is that this database will have a tremendous amount of utility whether or not it's ever used for 3d reconstruction this is still a way for scholars to have access to this information its way from ordinary people want to appreciate the history to have access the database will be stored at NYU's Institute for the study of the ancient world that's the current plan it'll be open source available to anyone who wants to access it we're going to set it up and Wikipedia style so that folks that have additional images field notes for other information about these sites that they want to append to the data that we put on the site they'll have the opportunity to do that so it'll be a true global resource that governments individuals anybody who wants to access this data in the future they'll be able to do it if a local municipality wants to raise the money to rebuild a statue that was destroyed and wants to use our data set to do that they are absolutely welcome to do so we're not we're not we're not going to be forcing this on anyone but I have to say that for my money when you remove these visible reminders of the past from the landscape it's very quickly thereafter that people begin to forget about the past and so again for my money I'm very much in favor of thoughtful recreations using this data the Vienna Convention set out certain requirements for the recreation of antiquities we're a very strong believer that as the Vienna Convention specifies original materials should be used it's very important that things are true to the spirit very in terms if things don't pass themselves off as real when they're recreations that they be properly identified but beyond that I think it's very important to retain in the landscape these visible reminders okay so so when you so when you use these 3d printers you're not just necessarily dealing in some type of resin or plastic so so you're not gonna have something that looks like it was made with Legos right no so in fact it would be the exciting opportunity that we have and again consistent with the with with it with the Venice convention is to actually go into these sites to use the rubble from destroyed structures to fabricate the concrete will be used to replicate them and in fact copy whether folks realize it or not was a very common building material during Roman times these structures that you see that are often mistaken for stone are very often concrete so we'd be rebuilding them in the same manner and using the same very concrete that was used in the original structures to recreate them so it's a it's it's a you know it's it's a horrible thing that we're talking about this it's hard to believe I mean it'll be like someone said gee you know Washington is lying in rubble should we recreate the Capitol building should recreate the Washington Monument means it's makes you hard to even think about those things and and when you do it kind of gives you some empathy for the people in Palmyra and places like that but I can tell you that if someone did destroy the Washington it would rise from the rubble in the same way that the at the site of the Twin Towers that that beautiful new structure has risen from the from the ashes and I think that's how people recover is how they recover their sense of pride in their history and I think it's it's a very important undertaking and this will make that at least possible people want to do the other aspect to this is that you want to document artifacts but where they're looted and sold so that you have a record and you're hopefully able to recover these provenance is very tough to prove with these types of things how will this technology help you to identify stolen antiquities that hit the market or possibly wind up in someone's collection yeah I mean that's obviously a huge secondary purpose for this for this project so the answer is this that the the images that will be making especially of the kinds of smaller objects that would be most likely to be sold in the galleries of Davi Street in London will be documented to a very high degree of resolution the visual images will include metadata that documents GPS location time and date and so once they are in the database there will forever be a record of the object at a level of resolution that it will in fact be possible to to identify stolen objects with the images in our database and and I think that in terms of what the FBI and Interpol are doing right now which is stepping up considerably their policing of the black market sale of Antiquities especially those coming out of the Middle East at this time this could become something that will be an important part of their their therefore their forensic resources so we're very excited about that possibility and if it does hold that potential my hope is that it will have a deterrent effect today in terms of it whether or not look if the middlemen decide there's too much risk associated with purchasing these objects because now the road the chain of custody is going to become transparent and they're gonna be implicated in this it may well reduce the demand for the objects today and once it does that just like ivory and sonic woods societies that's reduced the demand for those kinds of objects therefore reduce the on-the-ground destruction and it could have that same effect with antiquities I've heard it said that antiquities are the second largest revenue stream for Isis behind oil and with the coalition airstrikes disabling many of the ISIS controlled oil fields and refineries is it becoming a higher strategic priority for Isis to take control of areas of particularly high historical value it certainly seems that way to me if you sit down and take a look at the math of areas where they have focused their efforts it certainly seems like they are trying to capitalize on the opportunities to seize and then sell antiquities so I I certainly don't want to try to get inside their minds because it's possible for me to do that but I think the the record speaks for itself the there is no question and the I think made an announcement last Friday about its own efforts to step up intervention so they certainly are sensing the same things that we're theorizing about here right now that there isn't has been a significant increase both for the antiquities trade and I have to think that if the oil money is drying up given the financial opportunities the illegal sale of Antiquities represents and some people are estimating that it's in the tens of millions of dollars per month in terms of things that are coming out of Isis and held territories and that has to be has to be one of their of their priorities in terms of their strategic initiatives what are some of the sites that you're most concerned about that our most urgent for you right now do you know what what what's on Isis's wish list I guess well this is the question we frequently get asked and we've worked with UNESCO to develop a list of priority sites based on our own sense of what of what is likely to be high on our opponents list of priorities but we've made it a policy not to disclose the sites that we intend to focus on specifically well for two reasons one because we we don't want our hit list to become their hit list number one number two we don't want to place anybody at risk is working at those sites on our behalf to collect images so we're not disclosing any information about specific sites that were that we're either operating in have operated in recently or are targeting for the future well yeah that completely makes sense you know you don't want to do their work for them tend to impute a lot of sophistication to these organisations because they you know that some level ad it's reflected on what they do the reality is there's not a lot of sophistication there I'm not sure how good their information is I'm positive that our information is better I can tell you because we have the best archaeological minds in the world assisting us so you're absolutely right there's no way in the world we want to disclose what we know to them is that they can as I say they make our Hitler's there it was because it would be a be a blueprint for them do you think that Palmyra was a turning point for your cause well I think that it helped certainly helped to sharpen the focus I mean I think you know the reality is that that that people want to get involved in this and I think have the inclination to maybe they weren't sure how they could get involved this is certainly produced an outpouring of offers of assistance of all different kinds we have folks that are have expertise in 3d imaging that are offering their assistance we certainly have had lots of folks the local level come forward to say hey I'd be willing to take some images send me a camera of course we're happy to oblige requests like that and one of the things we'll be doing is reaching out to individuals through social media Facebook lots of photographs on Facebook and sites like that or tagged by geographical location and get every day people involved in this enterprise of fighting back against against Isis and I guess at the beginning of the program you were sort of talking about how what we're doing matches up against what Isis is doing and I think the great thing about it and the reason why this story has become such a global story is because we're not just fighting back in the sense of I for an eye a tooth for a tooth what we're doing in our and our and our efforts to fight back is something that's very constructive by its very nature its constructive we're trying to construct things so I think people are are captivated by that an hour of the Western response to what is you know really thuggery and vandalism is something that involves that the best and brightest minds because God knows the people that were working with at Oxford Harvard represent that but at the same time it's also something which is inherently constructive and it's a nice I think there's a there's a there's a wonderful contrast there well yeah it is and it must be interesting for you because usually you're used to doing research in archaeology and that type of thing you're not used to having a very clearly defined enemy who would kill you to accomplish the things that are the exact opposite of everything that you believe in and everything that you have worked so hard for it must be an interesting new experience for you I imagine yeah it is in a way metaphysical for a second and say the cardiologists are always fighting against time and time of course we'll eventually claim all of us it's time that erodes the objects as they sit out a myth and the baking in the Sun and and so I think that there there's always a sense of working against time to some degree but in terms of having a specific human adversary like this absolutely not I mean one of the nice things about archeology is I think most people everywhere consider it to be an important thing to conserve the past to learn more about the past to show connections between people and cultures and places so it is a very strange and alien concept for someone involved my enterprise to encounter an adversary who believes just the opposite that what they want to do is erase history to break down bonds between people and to instead insert their own a version of the past and make that the the blueprint for the future so yeah that is a stunning a really a stunning contrast with the environment of which we usually operate well it's a very exciting project that you're embarking on and I really wish you the best of luck with everything you're doing is there a website where people can go to find out more and even donate perhaps we don't accept donations all of our funding is private so we don't don't take anything like money or regulations of any kind but absolutely we have a very wonderful website it's wwr theology or QK and yeah I hope folks take a look at it and maybe get interested themselves certainly always looking for volunteers well it's exciting stuff and I'm rooting for you here Roger Michael thank you so much for coming on the show to talk to me about what you're doing with the million image database project yes a great question so one of the best I've done a lot of interviews and I have to say your questions were really suburban and thank you so much for the opportunity now I realize that most of you listening haven't been to Iraq or Syria and you're probably thinking who cares about a bunch of old ruins in places that you'll probably never visit but think about this folks Isis has established footholds well beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria and much of the most important history of the ancient world is within their grasp right now they have strategic control of large areas of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and the head of Isis Abu Bakr al-baghdadi has explicitly said that they have quote a religious duty to destroy the ancient monuments of Egypt such as the great pyramids in the Sphinx they've established a foothold in the eastern parts of Libya where they've already destroyed several Sufi shrines near Tripoli and they intend to target MS Radha and Leptis Magna –m which are two of the best preserved Roman cities in the world they have active affiliate groups in Jordan which could put the lost city of Petra at risk and I don't think that there's any doubt that they would take down the Wailing Wall in Israel where they also have affiliate groups and according to a projection map released by Isis about a week ago by 2020 they intend to take control of other historically rich countries such as Spain Greece Turkey Ethiopia and India the earliest and most important birth places of civilization washed from existence that's what we're looking at here and if that doesn't scare you then consider that some archaeologists estimate that Isis has generated as much as 300 million dollars from the looting of Syrian antiquities and with the coalition airstrikes degrading or destroying Isis controlled oil fields and refineries Isis is becoming even more dependent than ever on antiquities as a vital stream of revenue every artifact sold puts weapons in the hands of the most sadistic terrorist organization in the world but if you stop the looting you stop the flow of money and if you stop the flow of money you stop Isis thanks again to dr. Morales ohm and Roger Michael jr. for coming on the show to talk about Isis's war on cultural heritage be sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes and leave us a review and don't forget to go on our website or click on the survey link in the show notes to take that listener questionnaire for me I really want to get a feel for who our audience is and if you just take a minute to fill that out that'll be a huge help to make if you like what I'm doing here then I hope you'll support kick-ass politics by making a donation on the website or go to backslash kick-ass politics because starting last week we're now ramping up to two podcasts a week but that also means it's costing twice as much most of which comes out of my pocket to be honest and I'm happy to do the show because I enjoy this but if you want to pitch in that's always greatly appreciated and really shows me that you value the effort that I put into this every week so if you want to help out you can donate on the website or go to backslash kick-ass politics and as always I welcome your comments questions ripes and suggestions at comments at kickass but for now I'm Ben Mathis and thanks for listening to kick-ass apology this podcast may not be reproduced without express written permission kick ass politics is a trademark of Mathis entertainment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *