afghanistan archaeology bamiyan black market buddha christopher rose criminal cultural heritage destruction david stuart debra trein Games Germany guatemala iraq ISIS (terrorist organization) islam ladino Latin America looting maya mesoamerica mexico North Africa / SW Asia Podcast salafism saudi arabia statue stephennie mulder syria UNESCO united states wahhabism Western Europe world heritage World History by Region

Roundtable: Antiquities in Danger | 15 Minute History


Moderator: Christopher Rose, Middle for Center Japanese Research
Featured Visitors: Stephennie Mulder, Division of Artwork & Artwork History / Center Japanese Research
David Stuart, Division of Artwork & Artwork History / Mesoamerican Middle
Debora Trein, Division of Anthropology

Straight from the headlines: ISIS destroys the temple of Bal at Palmyra. Looters steal friezes from Greco-Roman websites in Ukraine beneath the duvet of battle. A freeway is constructed by way of an historic Mayan metropolis in the Guatemalan highlands, the legacy of many years of near-genocidal inner battle. Why is the lack of human patrimony essential, particularly in the context of the lack of lives? How can we start to elucidate why each are worthy of our consideration? And what can highschool or school educators and their college students do about it?

Our first roundtable options three specialists from the College of Texas who’ve taken the destruction of web sites the place they’ve labored and lived critically, and are working to boost consciousness of the significance of antiquities in hazard all over the world, and share easy steps to boost consciousness about the issue and how you can become involved.

Obtain audio (mp3—proper click on to obtain)

Image of explosive destruction of Bamyan buddhas by the Taliban, March 21, 2001. (CNN.)

Picture of explosive destruction of Bamyan buddhas by the Taliban, March 21, 2001. (CNN.)

Our matter at this time is antiquities in hazard, or as UNESCO places it, cultural Heritage destruction. That is in all probability a broad query, I feel lots of people are in all probability acquainted with issues just like the world heritage challenge, Nationwide parks, issues which might be supposedly protected. So, how a lot hazard are antiquities in, for what causes, and why?

David: properly, I feel there are a number of risks on the market. It’s true that there are protections on the regulation books, and ostensibly protections on the market in the varied nation-states for antiquities. However, the truth is that the legal guidelines can’t all the time shield archaeological websites, nor the objects themselves being taken out of the bottom. There are such a lot of layers to this story, and so many layers to the challenges that everybody faces in the fabric, which is daunting. There are wars, in fact, which are very a lot in the information as we speak in numerous elements of the world. Even in locations, although, the place there’s relative stability economically and politically, the antiquities are underneath menace.

Stephennie: sure, I feel that’s true. Definitely, we might have stronger laws, and there are numerous initiatives underway. There’s a serious one in Germany proper now that’s being put by way of, and proper now in our personal Congress, there’s laws—HR 1493—that has handed the home and is now happening to the Senate to stop the import of antiquities from Syria through the present battle. There’re already moratoriums on the import of antiquities from Iraq which were in place because the 2003 Iraq invasion. However, regardless of these sorts of import restrictions, we’ve seen antiquities imports from Iraq go up—in some instances the estimates are between about 300 and 1000%. So, it’s clear that most of these restrictions will not be solely efficient, However that doesn’t imply it’s not essential to place them in place. They do, in reality, allow totally different elements of presidency to coordinate with each other in order to make sure the enforcement truly takes place. So the actual key, I feel, is enforcement. Enforcement on the bottom in battle zones, clearly, it is extremely difficult factor to do––unattainable, actually, I might assume. However in locations that aren’t in battle, that’s truly one thing that I feel truly may be addressed just a little bit extra immediately.

Chris: Debra, do you need to add one thing?

Debra: sure, I feel to the touch on the actions and kinds of dangers that cultural heritage is underneath proper now, in addition to warfare. A number of the different issues that influence cultural heritage truthful and negatively embrace neglect, the place the native inhabitants just isn’t invested in sustaining or saving a specific archaeological website or archaeological supplies. There’s additionally intentional destruction. I’ve been by means of warfare or another type of destruction like, as an example, the Buddhas of Bamiyan that have been destroyed by the Taliban as a result of they weren’t Muslim. They weren’t a part of the hegemonic tradition. After which looting. One of many largest issues we now have proper now’s individuals stealing issues from archaeological websites, defacing archaeological materials to promote them for revenue.

Chris: which raises the query–we have been mentioning enforcement. To what diploma is corruption beneath the officers and turning a blind eye one other difficulty we have now to concentrate on?

Stephennie: it’s definitely a problem in locations the place I’ve labored. It relies upon.

Debra: it’s unimaginable to quantify, although.

David: it’s a type of issues, such as you say, you’ll be able to’t quantify it and it’s ubiquitous, it’s all over the place. It’s embroiled in each different sort of nefarious exercise you may be capable of consider inside these locations. I do know for a reality, It’s not simply remoted the place I work in Guatemala and Mexico, However the antiquities commerce could be very a lot one dimensional of a a lot bigger community with narco trafficking and the whole lot else. It’s very onerous to separate out these tendrils in the black market.

Stephennie: It’s one half of a bigger legal exercise, legal networks.

Debra: Wherever you’ve cash, You’re sure to have that kind of exercise occurring. Corruption interval

Chris: to what extent does ideologically pushed battle – the Buddhas of Bamian got here up earlier, Debra talked about them – I do know, Stephanie we’ve mentioned what ISIS is doing in Syria in a earlier context – To what extent does that drive a few of this destruction? What can we do about individuals who consider that they’re truly in the proper to destroy these antiquities?

Stephennie: oh, what can we do about it? I’m unsure we will do a lot about that facet. It’s an fascinating query, and I feel it’s one that basically deserves some extra rigorous educational research. We take the case of ISIS proper now in Syria, which is in fact could be very a lot in the newspaper: individuals have seen these movies going round of them destroying Nineveh and different websites. This can be a state of affairs the place you have got a gaggle that’s, on the one hand, they’re claiming that this stuff are idolatrous, proper? They take their inspiration from some traditions of Wahhabism and Salafism inside Islam that claims that any sort of images is a menace to Muslims and others, and they also destroy websites like this as a result of they declare that they’re actual spiritual threats for individuals. That folks could be tempted to worship them in place of God. So, on the one hand Isis is claiming this, and however, they’re additionally looting archaeological websites of the exact same varieties of objects, And promoting them on the black market, and benefiting from them. So, there’s a relative degree of hypocrisy—in the event that they’re really of pure hearts and minds religiously, definitely you definitely wouldn’t see these two actions coexisting. There’re a reasonably remoted case, I might say, inside a lot of the Islamic world.

The Cemetery of Jannat al-Baqi in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The mausoleums were leveled after Medina was conquered by Saudis in 1926 (Wikimedia Commons, User: Mardetanha)

The Cemetery of Jannat al-Baqi in Medina, Saudi Arabia. The mausoleums have been leveled after Medina was conquered by Saudis in 1926 (Wikimedia Commons, Consumer: Mardetanha)

The one different place the place I’ve seen that sort of destruction occurring is, in fact, with the Taliban in Afghanistan to a point. However, the place have been actually see that taking place to a profound degree is in Saudi Arabia itself. By some estimates the Saudi authorities has destroyed 95% of their heritage since 1985. And, in that case in fact they’re additionally destroying Islamic monuments and Islamic websites. Probably the most well-known is that one of many prophet Mohammed’s wives, her residence was become a block of bogs. There’s an ideological motivation is to wipe out something which may probably tempt Muslims to worship something aside from God. A lot of the world’s Muslims have very fortunately coexisted with websites like this, with monuments like this, have worshiped at saints shrines the place holy individuals have been—that is been a part of Islamic custom from the get-go. It’s a very richly built-in elements of Islamic life, so this can be a very robust aberration from most of Islamic historical past. We solely see this beginning to come up, this type of fervor, in the 18th century.

Chris: Talking of coexistence between individuals with monuments, I do know that in Mesoamerica the place these websites are being looted—once more principally on the market and financing of different unlawful actions—individuals have been dwelling with this stuff for hundreds of years. How does this go over with the native inhabitants?

David: Properly, it’s shocking. I’ve seen it on many ranges when working in the sector in Mexico and in Guatemala, Honduras. You’ve plenty of totally different sorts of communities, plenty of totally different individuals dwelling among the many ruins descendants of the traditional individuals themselves, modern-day Maya for instance, Rising corn on the base of ruined pyramids in the countryside. You might have Ladinos who don’t declare any indigenous heritage, who’re additionally proper there. You’d be stunned how disconnected even the Maya of in the present day are from their heritage. We acknowledge these sorts of connections, traditionally, linguistically, ethnically. However there, the place schooling typically doesn’t even exist, they haven’t any recognition that these antiquities are are their very own inheritance, that they’re the descendants of the populations that constructed them.

Debra: yeah, I utterly agree with you. From my expertise working in Mesoamerica, the native governments are likely to have a very good kind of conservation administration plan in place, however kind of they appear to be missing a coherent technique. The native inhabitants being divorced from their very own heritage. This can be a symptom of how they don’t seem to be to allowed to handle their very own heritage website. They’re in the palms of different individuals.

An antiquities smuggler in the method of looting a big stucco temple facade on the Maya website of Placeres, Mexico (Photograph from "with permission of individual pictured.")

An antiquities smuggler in the method of looting a big stucco temple facade on the Maya website of Placeres, Mexico (Photograph from “with permission of individual pictured.”)

David: that’s completely true. I feel that governments typically will declare that heritage as kind of a nation-state, the nationwide legacy of Mexico, or the legacy of Guatemala, and the legacy of those communities are disconnected from that utterly. So, the looting is coming from numerous sources and that is what makes it so complicated. You have got locals who is perhaps mining a pyramid for constructing provides, that occurs additionally on a regular basis. You’ve roads which are being constructed now all through many of those areas. Once more, utilizing the very useful masonry pyramids because the supply for the street stones. It’s occurring as we converse. There’s no management over this simply due to the amount of the fabric. The nation of Mexico, the nation of Guatemala, no nation– America included– can’t with the assets which might be allotted handle their cultural heritage. We now have so many websites in the USA which are being destroyed proper and left, particularly in the western a part of the nation. It is probably not as a result of there’s ignorance on anybody’s half– that’s a part of it I assume–however there’s simply a lot on the market. There’s sure to be a degree of destruction that nobody can actually management, and that’s actually the unhappy half.

Stephennie: However I might simply add that individuals are hitting on one thing that’s actually key right here, which is that schooling is basically essential. Most individuals, I feel, actually need to attempt to assume slightly bit about why heritage issues. It’s not one thing that instantly in all probability involves thoughts for most individuals. Why do you have to care? There are totally different solutions to that, they usually’re not all unproblematic. There’s UNESCO’s imaginative and prescient of world heritage, and naturally nationwide makes use of of heritage have typically been problematic as properly. I feel it’s essential to look critically at a few of these, too. What we will handle as educators is to actually provide you with a great reply to that straightforward query: why ought to we care? Why ought to individuals care about heritage? Why ought to individuals care about antiquities? As a result of it’s not essentially inherent to that type of a response. I feel it’s one thing that folks have to consider slightly bit particularly in the context of the sorts of warfare that i see in the areas the place I’ve labored in Iraq and Syria, that query could be very puzzling for individuals when human lives are at stake. Why ought to we care about cultural heritage?

I assume I’ve set myself as much as reply that query…


I’ll take a stab at it! It’s a sophisticated query to reply, However I feel that we should always care initially as a result of this type of of fabric tradition does inform us who we’re in some sense. So, we will consider that in a worldwide sense. Materials cultural explains who we’re in a method that textual sources, for instance, can’t. Then again, a whole lot of occasions archives are included inside the context of cultural heritage as properly, in order that framework actually tells us who we’re, Actually in the case of Mesoamerican monuments. Some of these buildings clarify the previous to us. I feel an understanding of the previous is definitely one thing that most individuals can begin to actually wrap their heads round, even on probably the most primary degree.

David: this opens up so many considerations. Heritage is one thing that’s—to make use of an educational time period, it’s very multi vocalic. There are many heritages on the market. We’ve simply had an enormous debate in this nation concerning the symbolism of the Accomplice flag, proper? And the claims of Heritage inherent in that. I feel as archaeologists and artwork historians and historians we’re actually reaching deep right here with antiquities. Schooling is absolutely key to make individuals join with the traditional previous. That is one thing that I feel in the USA is absolutely onerous to do. In Europe I feel there’s extra of a sensitivity to its, however in the US, we have now a brief reminiscence (and there’s a historic foundation for that). We’ve got to actually go the additional mile in our schooling on the college degree, in highschool, and even earlier to attach individuals with this previous. I feel that’s an enormous problem, and I feel we actually need to assume extra about that. We have now to function on a world scale. In every nation, and every area they’ve their very own challenges.

Stephennie: there’s this actually nice quote from Michael Crichton, and I’m going to paraphrase it. In the event you don’t know historical past, you don’t know something. You’re a leaf, that doesn’t know that you’re a part of a tree. It actually sort of encapsulates why I feel all of us have to know that we’re a part of this tree, and cultural heritage place a very pivotal position. It’s very totally different to truly encounter an object or a constructing or an area. It’s a profoundly totally different, aesthetic, emotionally than merely studying about historical past in a guide. I feel anybody who’s enter it right into a cathedral or seen a Maya pyramid or stroll right into a mosque has have that type of expertise.

Debra: to construct on that, I like to think about heritage as landmarks for reminiscences. They’re really cultural manifestations, materials manifestations of peoples’ identities. A method for to convey it right down to individuals in North America for example is to make use of that we’ve got right here, just like the Alamo, or the Structure, or the Declaration of Independence. It’s not simply that they exist, however that also they are seeds for the American id, or the Texan id, or the Canadian id. For them to vanish, to be destroyed is to lose that materials manifestation of that id, and it’s not shocking that landmarks like that, or objects like which are typically focused in warfare.

Chris: that’s a very good level.

Stephanie: there’s one thing summary about this, it’s troublesome to wrap your head round. I feel you’re completely proper, Debra, that bringing in a concrete instance is a very good way for individuals to consider it. Once we speak concerning the Elgin marbles for instance, in my artwork historical past survey, we all the time say, “Okay so what? They’re in the British Museum. It’s great, the whole world can see them. Why should the Greeks care? They should be happy, more people are seeing them.” However then, I flip the query round and ask them, “Well, how would you feel if the torch of the Statue of Liberty was in China, and the crown of the Statue of Liberty was in the British Museum, and part of her cloak was in another place?” they usually’ll look actually shocked as a result of imagining that monument, which is a beloved image of our highest beliefs in this nation chopped up and shipped all over the world actually brings that residence in this visceral approach. So I feel it’s actually key to convey in concrete examples that folks do determine with, that our seeds, as you say, of our personal reminiscence, of their very own id once we are speaking about about this. I feel that opens up that area for empathy for others and the way they might have these comparable forms of reactions and attachments.

Debra: One other good modern instance is the Nazi marketing campaign in London the place they have been making an attempt to bomb St. Paul’s Cathedral. The story goes that they have been making an attempt to bomb it not as a result of it was a strategic goal, however as a result of it was a logo for London, and as soon as that image was gone it might be simpler to subdue the English inhabitants. That speaks to the facility of heritage inside any sort of society.

Chris: Plenty of our listeners are college students– Highschool college students, school college students– people who find themselves not essentially skilled historians, however have a eager curiosity in historical past. For any person who is worried – acknowledges the worth, however is worried—what sensible steps can one take? Notably once we are speaking about ruins or buried artifacts in the Syrian deserts or the Las Vegasization of Mecca– And by the best way I might simply add for any listeners who haven’t seen that, you must Google present photographs of Mecca as a result of they actually do seem like Las Vegas – or for the pyramids of Mesoamerica and the royal tombs of the Maya. They’re distant, they’re not essentially tangible in case you haven’t been there. What can one do to take motion, increase consciousness?

Stephanie: nicely, one factor you would do is be a part of our group UT Antiquities Motion!


We began a gaggle on campus final fall that basically is supposed to embrace anybody in the group—school, scholar, employees—but in addition that the broader Austin group. Anybody who’s is welcome to hitch us. We meet as soon as a month, often on the final Wednesday of the month. Should you’d like to remain up to date you possibly can be a part of our Fb web page. We have now a reasonably lively Fb web page and anybody is welcome to submit. And we stock out actions. We went this spring to the workplace of consultant Michael McCall, to encourage him to vote for HR 1493. That was profitable. We’d wish to assume that we performed a tiny, tiny, maybe microscopic position in that call! However that was a fantastic factor to do.

We now have an entire bunch of different issues deliberate as nicely for the autumn together with probably a convention, and we’ve got a poster marketing campaign, a lot of different issues that we’re doing. So, anybody in the group is welcome to do to hitch when you’d wish to become involved in Austin.

There’s one other actually nice group referred to as SAFE– Saving Antiquities For Everybody. There’re a terrific group that’s truly designed for precisely this function, to teach laypeople or maybe those that don’t have a background in archaeology, artwork historical past or antiquities or cultural heritage. UNESCO has a very nice marketing campaign proper now for younger individuals referred to as #Unite4Heritage. That’s a hashtag that you simply’ll see quite a bit. It’s not just for younger individuals, however it’s focused at a youthful viewers. Anybody in fact can use that. So, these are a number of easy social media based mostly issues issues.

Debra: One wait to become involved is to contact your native state historic fee as nicely. THC, for instance in Texas, has plenty of methods to become involved, to volunteer at their historic locations, additionally even hang around in their excavations. These are nice alternatives to get educated in addition to to assist out together with your native historic fee to assist shield your native cultural and archaeological heritage.

One other suggestion is to journey, and journey responsibly. So, study concerning the methods in which you’ll be able to profit native populations when your doing cultural journey, if you’re going round visiting archaeological websites. The extra individuals who help native communities in accountable cultural tourism, The extra interact they are going to be in the stewardship of their archaeological and historic heritage.

David: it’s actually onerous for me so as to add to these fantastic strategies. I might simply usually say that for people who find themselves listening who perhaps in highschool, Who’re a bit youthful than we’re to interact with this entire dialogue concerning the cultural preservation on many ranges. I feel we’d like a lot youthful blood in this effort to actually educate, to unfold the phrase, in ways in which we have been simply speaking about. Faculty teams, any type of group–social media has been talked about– it’s actually the younger individuals who can makes a distinction. There are such a lot of methods to do that, It’s unattainable to enter all of them.

However it’s about schooling, it’s about figuring out what’s happening on the bottom, figuring out concerning the destruction that’s happening, figuring out the artwork market to a point, and that issues on the market that could be in an artwork gallery someplace in Houston or Dallas and questioning a few of these issues, questioning the place they got here from. Don’t simply assume that’s the best way issues are, or the best way they need to be– it’s actually an space the place individuals can come collectively and make an actual distinction.

Debra: I might add to that that if anyone has questions, please contact us. Typically it’s onerous for us to succeed in out, getting contact with everyone who needs solutions. If highschool college students or anyone on the market has questions, please be happy to shoot us an e-mail. We’re right here and typically it’s onerous for us to climb down from the ivory tower and join with everyone.

Chris: Is that this a very good time for me so as to add that we now have 70,000 subscribers to this podcast?


It’s a nice concept, as a result of I feel that is a type of areas the place we will truly join. The state historic society is and even newbie historians—I feel everyone has a vested curiosity in this. I keep in mind dwelling in DC once they have been proposing to construct a Disney theme park proper subsequent to the Manassas Battlefield. You keep in mind this? Individuals received up in arms about it. Due to the historic significance of the location, so it actually isn’t simply an us/them factor– we now have this happening proper right here too.

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