Protecting Stuff Today: Cultural Heritage Sites and the Penn Museum



well good evening everybody my name as most of you know by now is steve cine hasn't changed and i am the director the deputy am not gonna help myself and i'm the deputy director of the pen museum unbridled ambitions terrible thing many thanks to all of you for coming out to tonight's installment of our annual grapes lectures this year of course our theme is great stuff something we have a lot of in the museum and we're looking at a whole range or aspects of the topic including for example in the next lecture looking after our stuff that lecture is entitled the stuff you do not see conservation for renovated museum will be presented on december the fifth by our head conservator lynn grants has been excellent thing to hear as usual after the lecture there'll be time for questions which will be moderated by our speaker there'll be a microphone going the round so everyone can hear the questions as well as the answers so to our speaker dr. brian i Daniels director of research and programs in the Penn cultural heritage center here in the Penn Museum besides his role in the Cultural Heritage Center Brian is also adjunct assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania anthropology graduate group visiting professor in the sustainable cultural heritage heritage graduate program at the American University of Rome and research associate at the Smithsonian Museum institution his research centers around three concerns one conflict cultural loss and human rights violations two community-based approaches to cultural heritage preservation and three indigenous rights and recognition so he's an expert in things that we haven't really had people talk to us about before in these great series currently Brian leads the National Science Foundation supported conflict culture research Network a group of scholars at fifteen international universities and research organizations focused on the study of international cultivate a sort of intentional cultural destruction he has received the Society for American arc presidential recognition award for his efforts to protect Syrian and Iraqi cultural heritage and the Lynne Raya Award in tribal community development from the Society for the preservation of American Indian culture for his work with the Shasta Indian communities of Northern California he previously served as the manager of the National Endowment the Humanities regional center initiative at San Francisco State University where he worked on strategies for public engagement and digital humanities here at the Museum Brian was also Co curator of the exhibition cultures in the crossfire which has been a huge success and I thank him and all the other curators for that it's a really trailblazing blend of ancient objects and interpretation modern cultural heritage protection issues and contemporary art and that exhibition is closing November 25th a couple weeks time so if you haven't seen it I strongly recommend that you try to do so in the next few weeks knowing his work as I do I can attest that Brian is the perfect guide to take us through his particular kind of stuff in his presentation protecting stuff today cultural heritage sites and the Penn Museum so please join me in welcoming him now Brian [Applause] thank you Steve for that generous introduction it is very good to be with you today to talk about protecting stuff what we do here at the Penn Museum to deal with the different kinds of tragedies that befall cultural heritage both in our own country and internationally so I want to begin with this photograph an event that some of you and the audience will likely be familiar with the loss of the National Museum in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro just at the beginning of September due to an electrical fault and fire and many of you will probably have read in international media that the collections were near a total loss of the mostly Natural History collections but also incredible archaeological material at the graphic material and the linguistic collections for many of Brazil's indigenous communities and this particular cultural loss has become something of a touchstone right now among the international community that deals with disaster risk management and cultural heritage emergencies as we think through about what to do about protecting our stuff and so this is where we're going to explore tonight we're going to begin here and we're going to talk about some of the things that we do to address these kinds of pressing issues which are sadly becoming more and more frequent but to do that I need to walk you through a bit of my own preservation story as you heard me introduced I was working on a National Endowment for the Humanities initiative project in 2001 when the event that you see on the screen happened in Bamiyan Afghanistan and one of the things that I remember so vividly about that particular model was sitting at my desk and receiving an email in the in the days leading up the destruction of the sculptures here and the it was a all staff email to the National Endowment for the Humanities all staff an extended staff asking what can we do well is there anything we can do any ideas and the answer to that at the time was of course no now when that initiative ended I decided that it would be a very good time to go back to graduate school and get a PhD in the winter of 2002 and of course we all know what happened in the spring of 2003 the looting and destruction of the Iraq National Museum and one of the things that I found myself in some ways impressed into here at the museum was dealing with that how do you deal with the destruction of a museum how do you recover the artifacts that were lost and this museum ran and and I helped administer a nine-year project with the US Department of State to train law enforcement how to recognize and repatriate objects stolen from the Iraq National Museum back to their rightful home but there been other events here at Timbuktu the destruction of the Sufi shrines of the burning of the libraries that resulted in so much cultural destruction of this incredibly important place that has been a center of learning an academic scholarship for hundreds of years and then finally we arrived here to the present conflict in patan and in Syria and Iraq the destruction of Palmyra this photograph made the cover of the New York Times and so in many ways I shared this because my own career as a scholar has been bookended for the past 18 years by events of cultural destruction and it's been formative to how I think and how I respond to and how I encourage others in the museum feel now that I teach here to think about cultural heritage destruction and what the kinds of responses are and so we're going to do tonight is we're going to walk through three major issues about protecting stuff how we respond to archaeological site looting how we trained emergency responders and cultural heritage professionals to deal with disasters and finally how we both identify and build community based responses that we have seen time and time again to be the most effective in protecting stuff so we'll begin here and so this is an image that may be again familiar to many of you in the audience in the mid 90s there was great concern about the looting of archaeological material from in particular Greece Italy and Turkey and so this is a particularly famous sculpture the Griffins attacking a faun and this was found this was displayed at at the Getty and the man you see next to his name's Giacomo de'medici and Jaco de Medici was the intermediary dealer that coordinated a group of looters and the Griffins attacking a fawn were initially looted from Italy and you can see the photograph of them in the back of the Volvo right after they were dug up Medici insisted that Polaroid photographs be taken by all of his looters of material as it was looted now this was a great asset to law enforcement when the when the DIA when the looting network was finally unraveled and mr. Medici was convicted in it by Italian law but most of our attention about archaeological site looting and in some ways this is a good news story has been devoted to the greco-roman world and the outstanding work of the Italian carbonaria and Greek authorities and Turkish authorities and trying to stem the looting than those sites and then we came to the current conflict in the Middle East and what you're looking at here is dura europas prior to 2013 now during opus many of you are probably aware is a very famous archaeological site famous for its multi this character famous because one of the oldest depictions of Jesus Christ is found at the site famous – because the oldest known synagogue in the ancient world is also from this particular site and it is also unfortunately my candidate for the most looted archaeological site in the world and this particular photograph comes from April of 2014 and those red circles that you see in the center here are cars of looters as they came in to this site and all of these pits are our looters holes we think looking principally for coins this this particular site is known for the kind of coinage it had produced from the properly excavated areas that you see here and coins are very easy to sell they're easy to smuggle they're sold not necessarily even on eBay but oftentimes from person to person on other electronic forms of social media like Facebook for instance and so the scale here is really striking the pink that you see is the area inside the walls that has been looted the yellow is the area outside there are so many looters pits here that analysts with the American Association for the Advancement of science who worked on this with us could not identify exactly how many holes there were there were holes upon holes and sadly this is the kind of luteum that were seen in Syrian parts of Iraq now this particular site came under Isis control in mid-summer 2014 but the looting here probably was not directly Isis related it was done in the context of the political instability that happened to be going on in the space this however was Isis hland the looting to tell her re known as Mari famous for its tablet collections you can see all these red circles which were all news pit's to 2014 and 2015 you can see looting going on here squarely in the center of the main part of the site now it's not just conflict affected countries that are affected by looting here we're a bobble drawn Jordan which is a well known and well studied necropolis by my colleague Maura her cell and her team at DePaul University and this particular site is known for its old kind of pottery that sells well in the old city of Jerusalem and what happens when you loo to necropolis well looters leave behind broken pots they leave behind non sellable material and they leave behind human remains are the people who were buried there some 4,000 or more years ago and the pots that are found here may sell anywhere between a hundred and five hundred dollars apiece depending upon their size and quality but the loss that we see here to the archaeological record is intense it's significant and once the context of an object is disturbed much as you see here in this kind of moonscape of a site archaeologists have a very difficult time recovering and understanding that site then because we've lost the stratigraphy we've lost the association of what objects are found with each other and it becomes challenging for us to interpret it to understand what to do with these sites so what do we do about looting how do we protect stuff in this particular context well you're we happen to be at the Penn Museum and the Penn Museum is one of the museums in this country that has a well-known and highly regarded reputation for the legality that it treats its collections the legality of obtaining material the vast majority of material in this institution has provenance it has a fine spot we know where it came out of earth because archaeologists worked on it they excavated they made firm records which sit in our archives here or in other institutions that we partnered with to gather this information and the international law that governs illicit site looting is called the 1970 UNESCO Convention for the protection of cultural property but something very special happened at this particular museum back in 1970 this curatorial staff in the direct then director made a decision that this museum would not acquire any looted archaeological material . and since 1970 this has been the lodestar of this institution it's called the Pennsylvania Declaration and the Pennsylvania Declaration ultimately influenced the museum ethics of really every global institution this was the first museum to do this in the modern era it was the first museum to say that it would not acquire stolen property and I realized that sounds very basic but this was a revolutionary idea in 1970 and this museum was intensely unpopular for taking that stance and was ridiculed greatly in professional publications of the day but ultimately Harvard University followed suit in 1971 and in 1973 the Smithsonian Institution also endorsed the Pennsylvania Declaration and in many ways this museum is not only still guided by the Pennsylvania Declaration because it still is firmly part of our curatorial policy and practices here but it has influenced this museum status and ability to be able to work with people around the globe because other countries know were not here to steal their cultural heritage we're not going to acquire it if it was offered and that is a very powerful animating idea and this institution an enormous amount of credibility that is really very difficult to convey to people in Philadelphia for whom this sounds like an immediately reasonable idea but it is one of this museums strongest aspects internationally and globally now how else do we stop looting how do we protect the staff well the answer is an advocacy because we need laws that actually prevent it and I'll explain more about that in a moment but the only way to stop looting really is to deny a market for the looted material and to deny a market of looted material special laws must be passed in the United States in order to actually make sure that illicit ly looted cultural material does not come into our own borders available for sale and that require a special action by Congress and Senator Casey from Pennsylvania has been one of the most active members of Congress on this particular issue certainly the most active member in the Senate and takes very seriously the problem of cultural heritage looting and has been a partner with this institution on working on legislation to help protect cultural property and so what laws do we actually have on the books that helped protect cultural property but we have the Convention on cultural property implementation act of 1983 that's our law that implements the 1970 UNESCO convention but it doesn't work unless the country asks for it to work that's one of the trips of it and so we don't have that many memoranda of understanding with other countries to restrict the import of illicit looted cultural property and the the law of that law doesn't work particularly well in conflict events either so Congress passed the emergency protection for Iraqi cultural antiquities act in 2004 which places a permanent restriction on the importation of looted Iraqi material into country Congress in 2005 attempted to pass such legislation for Afghanistan but it failed a large measure from lobbying by the coin collecting community and so to this day for most classes of ffs of Afghan cultural heritage there is no import restriction on their looted material in the United States and it can be sold freely and legally in 2016 Congress thanks to the leadership of Senator Casey but also representative angle of New York and the retiring representative ed Royce of California enacted to protect and preserve international cultural property Act which placed import restrictions on material looted from Syria again these are very basic kinds of ideas but it's absolutely necessary to work and advocate for these laws and I encourage everyone here if this is something that you take seriously write your Congressman write your senator thank our Philadelphia senator for being so is so involved and tackling this important issue how else do we deal with protecting stuff how else do we deal with looted material well the answer is s.o.s and that doesn't mean save our stuff it actually is an acronym that we use in the field to describe three things situation analysis on-site damage and risk assessment and stabilization and security s.o.s and this is a method for dealing with damaged material either by earthquake or by conflict but it is the guiding principle that we use in emergency response and in training people to address cultural heritage damage and destruction and it was developed by a cron now ich rom is an acronym that doesn't actually make sense it actually stands for the International Center for the study of the preservation restoration of cultural property how about that mouthful otherwise known as the Internet Conservation Center of room and II kromm has long been working on this issue it was an organization created not long after the Second World War specifically to Train and to fund projects to restore war-torn Europe and now ich rom continues that tradition with assistance from the prince klaus fund for cultural development and further assistance from the smithsonian institution to develop training and to teach how to do this kind of Emergency Response because we see the need at such scale in places like Iraq and Syria so how does s.o.s work well the three stages here our situation analysis on site damage and risk assessment and security and stabilization before we ever get to the stage of early recovery and early recovery sounds very flashy it's when you get to rebuild things it's when you start to be able to begin to put lives back together and to go on but there are certain kinds of moments things that we need to do before that and what I want to do is I want to talk about how we do training in SOS and I'm going to give you some examples of this but I want to give you the flavor a little bit of what I cover when I teach this methodology for ich rom over here at the University of Pennsylvania a situation analysis what we're really talking about is what's the context you're working in is there somebody going to shoot at you is something about to collapse do you have permission what steps do you need to take to be able to proceed who are the stakeholders what communities care about this particular kind of cultural heritage then once we've ascertained this kind of very basic information we move on to on-site damage and risk assessment and that involves looking at the cultural site it means formulating a plan it means figuring out what the next steps are what the funding line is and then we move on to security and stabilization and a lot of the photographs that you'll see both for me but in international media are at that security and stabilization stage it involves taking specific kinds of measures to keep a site safe to keep the heritage professionals who work there safe until such time as wonderful conservators like Lynn Grant who you'll hear from in the next lecture series can work and do their due their wonders in doing a full on to do full on conservation in many ways SOS is about a momentary band-aid to prevent things from getting immeasurably worse and oftentimes it's done in the most adverse and difficult conditions to where we don't have ideal material we don't have ideal conditions we don't know what may happen to the site next week or next month or next year even especially in the case of conflict we don't know when the conservators will be able to come and so in many ways this is about trying to keep a space safe almost like putting a splint on an arm when it's broken so that way it can heal and that way professionals can come in to do their good work so I have been privileged over the past several years to be one of the trainers at ich ROM for the first aid to culture course and what you what I'm going to show you is some of the culminating photographs of of the course at the end there is an exercise an SOS exercise that require the students to do a situation analysis to do on-site damage and risk assessment and then finally to undertake stabilization and security measures in a very compressed amount of time so what you're looking at here is the scenario the scenario is that our trainees had two hours to be able to deal with an uncommon forest fire that threatened to obliterate a museum in its path and in those two hours they had to figure out how to do an evacuation of already damaged material from early fire and to actually deal with oncoming fire and so I showed this because these are intense exercises oftentimes the students who come here come from countries experiencing conflict or dramatic earthquake damage or fire or flood damage from other kinds of anthropogenic disasters places like Nepal places like India and as we want to give a real sense of the seriousness that a disaster conveys I also teach this at Penn and I teach it at Penn not necessarily because that I expect our students at this university will themselves ever need to do this but I teach it because I want to convey to our students the challenges that heritage professionals and other countries face when doing this kind of work and so I'll walk you through the scenario that I teach upstairs in our classrooms at this museum so the scenario is this unfortunately there has been a bomb blast in again in a glass gallery the building has been stabilized by engineers for one hour you must evacuate the collection how are you going to do it and so we provide basic materials for our students to use such that they might be they might have in any kind of office environment or any kind of museum environment and I always throw in a few surprises so this is my surprise named Jake Archer Special Agent Jake Archer Jake Archer is a great name for an FBI agent as it only that's his real name and so he joined the students now special agent Jake Archer and real life is a member of the FBI Art Crime Team for North East for the northeastern United States and one of the lead bomb analysis and recovery technicians for the FBI and so it was under his watchful eye that our students engaged in this exercise to figure out how to properly record pack grid remove the damaged cultural material and then to sort and ensure that all of the material was properly recovered in that very compressed length of time and you can see here the kind you can see here the outcome the students did very well here I have to say in their very compressed amount of time because the truth is we cut the power to the room after 50 minutes because you never really know how stable your our rating might actually be and then special agent Archer gave his opinion of how the students actually did did they meet FBI standard did they do a good job so this was a rather intense moment for our students I'm told they liked it very much but I admit they were nervous and the reason is that there is a seriousness to this this was a training exercise for the first day for culture program that we supported in Iraq after year Beal at the the Iraqi Institute for the conservation of Antiquities and heritage in Erbil in 2015 at the moment that Isis was busy occupying Mosul at the moment when the risk of Isis break out beyond Mosul was significant and this particular exercise brought together under the auspices of my colleagues at the Smithsonian and at the iraqi institute itself a group of heritage professionals from around the country Iraqi Kurd Christian Sunni and Shia to talk about how you protect for heritage and what you can do in these kinds of situations and what you're looking at here is the outcome of their final exercise but one of two final exercises I should say and they were given the task of how you would move a tablet like we have upstairs in the Middle Eastern galleries from an Isis controlled territory such that Isis would not search for it identify it and remove it and you're looking and they could only use the material in their dorm room and you're looking at all of their outcomes about how they packed it you can see there's a very creative wrappings here some are in lunch boxes some are in personal toiletry kits there's there some here in a videotape box but the one that everyone agreed would work is that there's one of the tablets was packed in a tampon box that was gonna do it we did a similar training exercise for Syrians in southern Turkey in June of 2014 and here are the here are a group of heritage professionals from the in live area who we'll be talking about more in a moment carefully undergoing their exercise evacuating a museum that needed to be evacuated that you see in the background but carefully recording wrapping and labeling all of the different material in order to move it move it to safety so I want to talk a little bit more now about protecting the staff in Syria in Iraq specifically because it is so much on everyone's mind right now and because the kind of fact training the first date for culture training I showed you in for Syrians and for Iraqis in Erbil and in southern Turkey I want to talk to you about how this museum got involved in that project and in that work much of which you can also see in the cultures in the cross fire gallery upstairs but what I want to talk to you about tonight is how and why we started in 2013 dr. Salim Alcantara here at the Penn Museum upstairs and gave a lunchtime talk about the conflict in Syria she herself was the deputy director of the Directorate General of Antiquities and museums in Syria and she had fled from Syria in 2012 in fear of her life she was targeted for arrest and she felt no longer safe with very good reason and through a variety of for variety of reasons she came to here at this university and this university took her on as a refugee scholar and so she gave this talk to a packed room not altogether different from this one and afterwards she came up to me in January was January of 2013 and she said what are you gonna do about Syria now that's a damning question right I mean one of the greatest challenges I think I've had and I hope that I've conveyed to you so far is that this is hard and this museum occupies a very important place internationally in the kind of ethics that has a reputation of upholding and in the kind of commitments that it makes to protecting cultural heritage around the world and it seemed to me at the time and trying to think about how to respond to this question that it was really hard to look ourselves in the mirror and say that we behave as an ethical organization and not confront the Syrian crisis and the destruction of heritage there head-on and so that night I called my colleague kori and writer at the Smithsonian and I said I think we need to have a talk and we brought together that April essentially all of the groups that had worked on the emergency response to RAK in 2003 and for to meet to talk and to figure out a plan of what to do in Syria that resulted in the safeguarding the heritage of Syria and Iraq project a multinational group of different organizations what you might call a Coalition of the Willing who all said yes we're going to try we're not sure how we're going to do this but we're going to make our best effort to engage with heritage professionals who have been adversely affected in this crisis and we're going to do our level best to protect cultural heritage in this conflict zone most major initiatives globally that have protected cultural heritage and conflict had been originated and organized by a military force like the Allies during the Second World War and the faith and the fabled monuments Fine Arts and Archives officers in that George Clooney movie you might have seen this wasn't going to be like that in any kind of way we knew that we were museums and nonprofits and we were going to have to find a different way and so what we did was we organized a meeting in southern Turkey to be able to offer to our affected colleagues who were outside of areas controlled by the Assad regime education about first aid for culture training and this was at their request to talk about how you do evacuation to talk about SOS to talk about everything that you heard me describe in these kinds of conflict zones and practice that was for them real life and so over several days we had the training activity we bought supplies for them to take back into Syria and I think most crucially we had a discussion about priorities about what could feasibly be done and it's this conversation that led the show see project to expand and to do a great deal more and to really think about what a more fulsome response could be in the midst of conflict one of its first major successes was the protection at the Mara mosaic Museum which is in the ancient cities near the ancient cities of northern Syria world heritage site and a famous collection of late antique and early Byzantine period mosaics now Mara happens to be at an important strategic crossroads in the conflict the museum itself had already been damaged so the question was how do you protect its mosaic collection the mosaics were removable in 1970s curatorial style they had been concreted to the walls so what we came up with after consulting mosaic curators across the country was a strategy that would involve putting glue down on the mosaics and then using flash bomb polyurethane fabric or cotton sheeting and pasting that onto the mosaic so that way if the building was bombed at least the Tesoro would stick to the cloth we then proposed a sandbagging technique it just wasn't random sandbags thrown on a wall but during the Second World War for those of you who have had visited da Vinci's Last Supper in Milan you'll know or may remember that that building was destroyed by bombing except for the walls with the paintings on them one of which being da Vinci's da Vinci's Last Supper because of a very specific sandbagging technique that had been used there we borrowed that technique here AM proposed and informed our Syrian colleagues about it and ultimately this museum has now sustained three direct bombings the building itself is damaged quite likely beyond repair but the mosaic collection survives in large measure because of this technique and because because of the sandbagging technique and because of the glue and the fabric of the mosaic tessarin the site of Ebla is also famed for its coneja form tablet collection and as such it was a target of looters early on looking for other Kanaya form tablets or cylinder seals which are portable and valuable for the illicit trade so again the group of the group of heritage professionals we were working with in Syria documented all of the different looters pits on the ground one of which you see here and also looked for the looters holes where looters had tunneled underneath the Foundation's underneath the different buildings to look for this material in order to prop them up again with very very basic concrete blocks in order to prevent the overall collapse of the buildings and the loss of archaeological site itself these are very simple measures but they are what needs to be done at the furqan mosaic another famous in-situ mosaic from the ancient cities of northern northern syria world heritage site this mosaic in a necropolis and a burial area it was exposed partially by looters and this team reburied it and sealed it off after doing after fully documenting it in order to discourage its theft and one of the things that we began thinking about more and more about this initiative as it went on is how we address living traditions that are now at risk because of the refugee crisis because the elderly generation that holds the traditional knowledge is oftentimes displaced unfortunately because of displacement has died prematurely how do you protect that kind of knowledge and so we partnered with educational NGOs that were offering schools inside these archaeological sites to work with them to provide curricula for the children to learn about the heritage sites themselves to learn a basic conservation to learn kind of what to do and not to do with different archaeological materials which you see the little girl here holding up the Arabic word for dome and the English word for dome one of the strategies we used was to couple English language training with cultural heritage because there was and is an English language training program built into already into the educational programming we also in the we also began working to help protect traditions like straw we beam which has regional variation across Syria but is a traditionally practiced by a few elderly women to create a master an apprentice training program so that way this tradition could be passed on to younger women and children thereby keeping this living tradition alive much of this work has been done by the Idul of antiquity Center the entity that has come into being from the people who we trained in southern Turkey back in 2014 they become over time more organized they have their own offices they have worked with us to enhance their own training capacities and abilities and reach and they've lately launched the International Campaign saved the antiquities of in Lib hand-in-hand to protect it the logo of which you see here their work has been extraordinary and has advanced so much beyond the early photographs that I showed you here for instance this section of the wall had been removed for building material threatening the entire buildings collapse the team at the Idul of antiquity Center created false masonry in order to actually replace it and provide overall building stabilization again to prevent the building's imminent collapse they've also worked at the inland museum the site where the Ebla tablets are held now much of this collection has been stolen by Al qaeda-linked terror groups but the it'll of antiquity center now is working at the Museum to document the losses to document what tablets survived and they've now been digitally recorded and have been moved to much more safe storage but you can see here the uniforms and the workflow processes that they've created make them unquestionably the world's experts in protecting cultural heritage during conflict I think it's a testament to this museum that we're able to support them in this kind of work there is of course still tragedy that exists in cultural heritage perhaps the best-known tragedy in recent years beyond the Brazil National Museum was a destruction by Isis of the Mosul Museum which featured in its first cultural heritage related propaganda video Isis strapped explosives to one of the longest sue in the museum and several other important sculptural reliefs and detonated it that means that the material there remains it means there is a very large hole in the floor it means is that the challenge is in trying to figure out how to piece this museum back together I'm hopeful though I recently returned from Erbil Iraq where we had a meeting with the director of the mosul museum with the head of the State Board of Antiquities of heritage and Iraq for the Nineveh province and the head of the Iraqi Institute specifically to talk about how to undertake this work it will be funded by a new foundation based in Switzerland designed specifically to help rebuild destroyed cultural heritage and I think this will happen and I'm very happy and pleased to have been asked to advise in in the reconstruction of this museum but it will happen because there's good will good will be among institutions who are willing to lend a helping hand and organizations like this museum who are willing to be that helping hand challenges remain there are museums and universities throughout the world that are at risk from future conflict and other kinds of disasters and the map you see here just gives you a sense of some of the organizations that the Penn Cultural Heritage Centre here at the museum is now involved with and talking to trying to assess what those risks are but again there is much to be hopeful about because even when the destruction seems total and overwhelming groups like the in live antiquity center with a modicum of support from people like us can do amazing things and have small wonderful successes even in the midst of the most brutal conflict thank you for listening tonight and I'm happy to answer any questions that you have [Applause] so there will be a microphone going around for four questions the lols you mentioned early on were focused on just one or two countries why such a narrow focus and how would you know when you found a somebody try to sell something whether it can actually came from that country so both are very good questions so why such a narrow focus in the legislation well the short answer to that is that was what was politically feasible at the time Congress thus far has adopted a country-by-country approach to the protection of cultural heritage I eagerly await the day when it will be politically feasible to to have a more comprehensive approach to cultural heritage protection and I'm actually quite confident that that day is nearing and it may be nearing as soon as the new Congress this January how do we know what kinds of objects come from what country that's a that's a trickier question in the sense that we have experts here at the Penn Museum and other institutions that in many ways can recognize objects on the base of different styles of the objects different chemical compositions of the objects and be able to pinpoint their country of origin that way but one of the amazing things about having a curatorial staff at a museum such as this one is the amazing amount of expertise that they have in being able to discern these very very fine-grained distinctions and in many ways I often joke that they look to me for the law and I look to them for that kind of expertise other questions sir so the question really is about climate change and damage to archaeological sites sea level rise I would also add to that storms one of the saddest examples I've seen of climate change damage to archaeological sites is actually coming from from the Sudan pyramid sites there were increased wind speed brought brought about by more intense storms just in the past decade alone has done more damage to those pyramids than in the past two centuries of recording the answer is that there's a number of archaeologists specifically on sea-level rise who are trying to do emergency documentation and salvage at sites that are looking at that are under threat from being submerged the National Museum of the American Indian for instance just had one of their curators do an emergency excavation in Puerto Rico at a major site that was at risk for lost there the strategy that we've had thus far in the international community is one of salvage in the face of anthropogenic climate change and it remains to be seen if there are other kinds of strategies that can be used as well but right now it's unfortunately just one of mitigation other questions there is a particularly strong coin collector Lobby you know resources and ideology this is a really good question and I think that the answer to this because it's one that we struggle with and I can tell you for the show see project it is something that you know kept me up at night as I mean as I was thinking about coordinating this and I am sure as I'm sitting here that I got things wrong I don't see that there's any way that we could have done everything right I think that the difference is that it really does fundamentally depend on whether or not you treat colleagues on an equal ground and whether or not those colleagues are coming to you for help and assistance I can guarantee you this is a project that I would never have taken on if someone had not come to ask me for help I would not want to be in that position that neo-colonial position here and I think what's striking about that project and what I would hope would be the legacy of that project is to know and understand that the organization of it was flat that our Syrian and Iraqi colleagues were just as empowered to act on the project as I was and we worked very diligently to try and remove that historic power dynamic did we do it perfectly I'm sure we did it very it did it imperfectly but I hope that the record on this project will show that we tried and that others will be able to come along and assess better ways to do it than we did other questions sir very good question so the the show C project at one point required 14 different permits from three different governing entities governing entities that sometimes didn't get along with each other even inside the same country I often joke that my job on that project was just to figure out who I was going to make angering me at any other day the inner in Iraq the situation was very substantively different than Syria Iraq the State Board of Antiquities and heritage maintained functionally an integrity and permitting authority during and throughout the conflict Syria was a very different story and one of the things that we made a very self conscious decision very early on into the conflict was that the lion the almost the entire universe of international resources was going to the Assad regime for protecting cultural heritage and there were lots of questions about that internationally about what that meant for corruption and what that mean for diversion of resources we made a very self conscious decision together with officials from the US government that we would work with civil society actors and heritage professionals outside of the control of the Assad regime who were not receiving any kind of international assistance and to focus our attention there that's one of the reasons why the permitting to that project was so complicated but that's a decision I have no regrets over and I sleep very well at night knowing that we were able to provide resources to people who desperately needed it to do work that they desperately needed to do well there there are many similar arguments about whether museums in places like Europe or the United States or safeguarding collections and not returning collections that may have been removed either on a colonial context or under other kinds of dubious legality I mean this is an ongoing fight that occurs around archaeological material and material that's a that is important as the parthenon marbles for instance what i will say is the syria conflict functionally changed much of the dialogue about this and the arguments that archaeologists and museums have i was in the audience in september 2014 at the metropolitan museum which has been one of the organization's frequently criticized by archaeologists for the acquisition of dubious material and as their did then director tom campbell stood up and said and on no uncertain terms that no museum in this country should acquire anything from a conflict country it was a stronger statement and i'd ever heard any archaeologists make and that was a real watershed moment because it opened up the space between the archaeological community to have a conversation with the museum community which had been feuding with for some time about how to deal with situations like syria and iraq it was something of it they talked and i'm hopeful that the collaborations that ensued can continue because the issue became less about acquiring looted material and it became more about which museums are willing to help and which museums are not as well as which archaeologists are willing to help and which ones are not this was a very different kind of framing a very different development in our field any involvement with Egypt doing so this museum released a list of the objects likely looted from the Cairo Museum in the immediate aftermath of the civil unrest I also worked on the archaeological community's response to the civil unrest and ultimately a Memorandum of Understanding between the government of Egypt and the United States to restrict looted material from Egypt into the United States and that MOU I believe was ultimately signed in 2015 and this museum prepared the policy brief from the archaeological community that was used in that particular case I find that the auction houses have a mixed reputation on this and it depends on the specific auction house I would single out south of Bees actually as having made the most radical transformation toward transparency since 2006 the other auction houses in some ways are still a bit behind where Christy sorry where a South appease actually is and I think that there has been more research I would not call a perfect research by any stretch of imagination across the auction houses what we've started to see in the antiquities dealing community is more sales by none auction houses that have less transparency associated with them or internet sales where there's really you know kind of no no obvious or public sort of Nexus where we would know it was actually being sold and I think that that was a market development in response to the auction houses adopting a position of more more transparency and more legal scrutiny well thank you very much for coming this evening [Applause]

4 thoughts on “Protecting Stuff Today: Cultural Heritage Sites and the Penn Museum

  1. well, i agree it sucks. i suggest you get rid of your warmongering elites. It would be great for the pots and also for the humans living among the shards.

  2. Thank you for your valuable service in preserving the world's historical sites and collections, Penn Museum. It helped soothe some of my worries to see you take an active role in figuring out what to do in crisis situations and teaching people in conflict zones how to minimize losses when the bombs start dropping. Just as with the Pennsylvania Declaration in 1970 you're doing fantastic work in pushing the limits of what respectable historical institutions can do to preserve and protect our common heritage.

  3. IT'S BEEN A WHILE…
    DESTROYING ORIGINAL ARTEFACTS IN FAVOUR OF DUBIOUS COPIES OR APPROXIMATIONS OF WHAT THOSE ORIGINALS WERE SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE…
    THE MIDDLE EAST IS TESTAMENT TO SUCH TALES… GO VIEW THE FINAL DAYS OF THE ASSYRIAN EXHIBITION IN LONDON.

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