Trowel Tales: The AIA Blog

AM Workshop: Evidence and Emergency Responses to Cultural Heritage Destruction in the Middle East
September 16, 2015 | by

“How can the international and academic community respond to the current destruction of cultural heritage occurring in the Middle East? The international regime of heritage protection during conflict rests upon an agreement that actors within the modern system of nation-states will refrain from damaging cultural heritage out of humanitarian concerns. But in the present crisis, one actor, the Is­lamic State rejects that system. The Syrian Arab Republic Government has also been implicated in extensive damage to historic and religious sites. The destruc­tion of cultural heritage accompanying intrastate and ethnonationalist conflict is a well-known but little studied phenomenon often designed to erase the presence and history of a rival social or ethnic group. Yet despite considerable scholarship directed toward violations of civil and political rights during these and other con­flicts, there is a general tendency to view damage to cultural heritage as an un­fortunate collateral outcome, rather than as a common tactic of intimidation and subjugation. Although prior research suggests that the purposeful destruction of cultural heritage may escalate a conflict, few studies have identified factors lead­ing to such an intensification. Furthermore, even less attention has been given to what measures may protect heritage sites and the people who care about them in conflict situations.

Successful interventions are rare, and, in the present crisis, there is an acute need to examine what factors might result in positive outcomes. This panel explores the destruction and protection of cultural heritage in the context of recent events in Syria and Iraq. In looking at the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, panelists will discuss the social dynamics involved, methods employed in documentation, emergency preservation interventions that have occurred or are currently underway, the legal implications of damage to cultural heritage, and the practical and ethical responsibilities of museums and other heritage professionals in crisis situations.”

MODERATOR: Katharyn Hanson, University of Pennsylvania
PANELISTS: Brian Daniels, University of Pennsylvania, Susan Wolfinbarger, AAAS, Cori Wegner, Smithsonian Institution, Susan Kane, Oberlin College, Salam al Kuntar, University of Pennsylvania, and Sarah Parcak, University of Alabama

Please reference the AM app in December for the exact time and location of the workshop. 


All these places are really great and historicaly important. I am not sure why, but for some reason people pay less attention to cultural heritage in the Middle East and it has always been like that.
Best Regards from

Surely, archaeologists and other researchers should push for a greater voice in government to protect irreplaceable cultural sites and artefacts. But getting the government hear you out is hard. Besides, if the local people don't care at all, all culturl sites will be ruined. Just, look at what happned to the site of Nimrud in Iraq. This site is also a cultural heritage of ISIS, but they themselves are destroying it - that's sad. It shows how limited those guys are.

Humble thoughts of writer.

One of the successful tactics to protect cultural heritage in endangered sites under the atmosphere of political chaos in the middle East is to tighten our relationship with local communites and in particular with tribes and ethnical minorities in the border areas. There is a wonderful case from Sinai Egypt, in which the Sheikh of a tribe, brought back monuments looted from the Temple of Serabit el khadim during the revolution in 2011 when the police, the military and the government institutions were disbalanced. Sheikh Salem and his family could successfuly reach the looters and brought the artifacts back including a baboon statue from the border area in North Sinai. I heard the story from the Sheikh in person and from the director of the Sinai antiquities inspectorate. Although most of the stories we heard during the revolutions in the Arab world are negative, here is a positive example that we can reflect on and learn from. 

As we see looting and destruction of cultural heritage sites in the Middle East did exist before the revolutions, but we would say in the aftermath of the revolutions these problems aggravated and have carried new meanings. For example, destruction of culutural heritage became symbol of retaliation of government system as we saw in Mellawy museum, Egypt, in 2013, and in some cases, destruction is meant to signal cultural suprumacy as we see the case of ISIS. 

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