Katie A. Paul, 2013
Since appearing on the BAR “Dig” issue in 2013, where I am shown at Tel Megiddo, my career and goals as an archaeologist and anthropologist have changed course significantly. When the BAR dig issue was published, I had already spent three excavation seasons at Tel Megiddo and Tel Kabri. I was just completing my M.A. in anthropology and working as director of programs at the Capitol Archaeological Institute (CAI) at The George Washington University under the direction of Dr. Eric H. Cline.
Shortly after launching the CAI in October 2010, the Arab Spring took place, and following the breakdown of security after the January 2011 revolution in Egypt, Egypt’s cultural heritage faced looting and destruction on a scale unseen in the nation before. The devastation motivated the creation of the International Coalition to Protect Egyptian Antiquities (ICPEA) in the spring of 2011—led by the CAI and spearheaded by its chairman, Deborah Lehr.
The impact of the Arab Spring on cultural heritage in Egypt and across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region changed my primary archaeological focus from digging artifacts to working to fight those digging them illegally. As the ICPEA explored the depth of cultural racketeering in Egypt, the coalition was exposed to the wider global scale of this devastating trend that they labeled as cultural racketeering—the systematic theft of art and antiquities by organized criminal syndicates.
The Arab Spring and overall instability that followed, gripping the MENA region after January 2011, served as a catalyst for the rapid global growth of the cultural racketeering phenomenon, driving the black market trade up while tourism feeding the legal economies in the region dwindled.
After three years of work developing innovative programs designed to stem the flood of illegal antiquities coming from Egypt, the ICPEA brainchild was expanded into the Antiquities Coalition: an organization that works to stop cultural racketeering by empowering local communities to steward and protect a cultural heritage that belongs to all of us.
In March 2014, the ICPEA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities at a ceremony held at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, DC. The MoU formed a public-private partnership between the ICPEA and the Ministry of Antiquities—the first of its kind—aimed at implementing programs to combat looting and destruction of cultural heritage across Egypt.
Working deeply with organizations that are advocating and actively driving solutions for the protection of our shared heritage, and admiring the stream of activism from those on the ground abroad, has inspired my own work moving forward and spurred my practice of what I’ve dubbed “ArchaeoActivism” as much as possible.
Promoting ArchaeoActivism led to the recent launch of the ArchaeoVenturers Project in the summer of 2014, a project co-launched with Justine Benanty, a maritime heritage expert. The goal of the ArchaeoVenturers Project is to raise awareness about issues surrounding culture, heritage, science and archaeology from the deserts of the Middle East to the deep waters of the Caribbean. This project shows those interested how easy it is to be an ArchaeoActivist in their own communities.