Culture Under Threat a Focus at 117th AIA Annual Meetings

AIA annual meeting

This year marked the 117th annual meeting of Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), which was held in San Francisco. These meetings took a different tone from years past as many of those who work in the AIA’s foundational region – the Near East – have seen heritage lost in unprecedented numbers to looting and destruction. The 117th annual meetings had a greater focus on tackling antiquities looting and trafficking in a historic and current context, including additional speakers, several sessions and even an award touched on the issue of culture under threat.

This year’s keynote speaker was renowned British archaeologist, Professor Colin Renfrew who addressed “Looting and Beyond: Rediscovering the Early Cycladic Sanctuary on Keros.” Among the many areas of expertise that Renfrew has focused on over his career, he was one of the archaeologists addressing the archaeological looting before the topic became the headline maker it has become today. His most notable work on the topic is his book Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology published in 2000. In particular, one of Renfrew’s points addressed the need for museums to have stronger acquisition policies.

Cindy Ho AwardThe AIA also extended this year’s meeting focus on heritage by honoring the legacy of those who have fought to protect cultural heritage throughout their careers. Cindy Ho, the founder of Saving Antiquities For Everyone (SAFE) received this year’s AIA Outstanding Public Service Award. Through the work of SAFE, Cindy Ho has dedicated more than a decade to raising public awareness of the threats posed to cultural heritage. SAFE continues to be a staple organization in raising global awareness to the threats posed to cultural heritage the world over. The Antiquities Coalition would like to congratulate Cindy Ho on her valuable work in changing the way the world understands the plight of our heritage.

The AIA also awarded another heritage advocate, Malcolm (Mac) Bell III, with the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement. Malcolm Bell has examined the wholesale looting Malcolm Bell AIA awardof archaeological sites through his decades of work at the Morgantina dig on Sicily. His work to gain attention to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s looted acquisitions and the eventual long fight to prove the pieces had been looted made him a landmark figure in the fight to protect cultural heritage from plunder. Malcolm Bell’s Gold Medal Award is well deserved for his many years of painstaking work on looted antiquities and classical archaeology.

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The Antiquities Coalition also took part in this year’s AIA meetings with some new information on the process of looting in Egypt. The AC’s Chief of Staff, Katie Paul presented her research Cultural Racketeering in Egypt Predicting Patterns in Illicit Activity: Quantitative Tools of the 21st Century Archaeologist in the panel for “Current Issues in Heritage Management.” Katie has spent the past five years developing an innovative approach to data collection and analysis of information in time of crisis. Her focus on Egypt examined the breadth of antiquities crimes since the January 25, 2011 Revolution. By charting this data using a new look at sources of information, Katie verified clear patterns in the activity occurring at sites which may help authorities in cash-strapped countries like Egypt allocated their few resources in the most efficient manner to #CombatLooting. With a reliable baseline of information, the Antiquities Coalition will be extending this research to other countries across the MENA region.




The New York Times on the ‘Broken System’ That Allows Art Trafficking

Asia Society

The New York Times on the ‘Broken System’ That Allows Art Trafficking

January 11, 2016 by Michelle FlorCruz

An Islamic State militant participates in the destruction of ancient ruins near the city of Nimrod, Iraq, in a video released by the Islamic State.
An Islamic State militant participates in the destruction of ancient ruins near the city of Nimrod, Iraq, in a video released by the Islamic State.

Last March, a raid in Shumen, Bulgaria, reclaimed 19 ancient artifacts that had been illegally smuggled. Among the various recovered marble and limestone pieces was a square tablet estimated to be nearly 5,000 years old that originated from the Sumerian city of Lagash, in what is today southern Iraq.

Despite the success of the raid, however, most of the looted art from the region will never be recovered and returned to its rightful owners — and the situation has now become a problem in the global fight against terrorism.

In an article published Sunday in the New York Timesvarious officials and experts describe the “broken system” that allows for groups like the Islamic State to profit off of stolen art and the growing global effort to stem the flow of illegal trafficking:

Laws around the world are weak and inconsistent, and customs enforcement can screen only a portion of what crosses international borders, according to officials and experts in trafficking. Long-established smuggling organizations are practiced in getting the goods to people willing to pay for them, and patient enough to stash ancient artifacts in warehouses until scrutiny dies down. Despite a near-universal outcry over the Islamic State’s actions, few countries have shown interest in imposing new restrictions to curb the booming trade in antiquities, estimated to be world billions of dollars a year.

Last September, Asia Society New York hosted a forum entitled “Culture Under Threat: Antiquities Trafficking and Terrorist Financing” that similarly addressed the threat that terror groups represent to art and cultural relics. Among those who participated in the discussion were UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova, Foreign Minster of Iraq Dr. Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Deputy Prime Minister and Minster of Foreign Affairs of Jordan Nasser Judeh, Antiquities Coalition chairman Deborah Lehr, Asia Society president Josette Sheeran, and Asia Society Policy Institute president Kevin Rudd.

“Culture has always been the victim of war, but what we see today is new,” Bokova said of the ongoing crisis. “New in scale and in nature, because we believe that attacks against heritage and culture are in fact attacks against people, against their identities, against their human rights. They’re attacks against the humanity we all share.”

Click here to watch the complete video of the program.

PDF of the article here

A Global Antiquities Market: Ricardo Elia’s Interview with the Antiquities Coalition

Ricardo J. Elia, Associate Professor of Archaeology at Boston University, discusses the nature of the antiquities market in an interview with the Antiquities Coalition during the New York Summit. He states that the market is diffuse, with many agents involved in the illicit movement of antiquities, but that reducing the demand for stolen cultural property will have a definitive impact on the rest of the supply chain. He additionally identifies that the global nature of the antiquities market requires a cooperative effort to mitigate the trade, urging all member countries to implement the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 (2015) to stop importing illicit antiquities. Elia has been a professor at Boston University since 1994, and served as Department Chair from 2007-2010 and Director of the Boston University Office of Public Archaeology from 1983-1994. He currently co-directs the Boston University Field School in Archaeology and Heritage Management in Menorca, Spain. He has published on the antiquities market, archaeological looting, and cultural heritage in conflict. Elia received his bachelor’s degree in Classics from Boston University, master’s degree in Classics from Ohio State University, and PhD in Classical Studies from Boston University.

Egypt to Launch Antiquities Database to Track Public Collections and Combat Smuggling

The Art Newspaper

Egypt to Launch Antiquities Database to Track Public Collections and Combat Smuggling

The project, which is due to launch in early 2016 at a cost of around $1m, will be based at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo
The project, which is due to launch in early 2016 at a cost of around $1m, will be based at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo

By Anny Shaw | 7 January 2016

The Egyptian ministry of antiquities is developing a new digital database to help officials to identify and recover smuggled artefacts. Working with the Antiquities Coalition and the American Research Center in Egypt, the ministry aims to document the materials, location and provenance of each object in the nation’s extensive public collections. Staff from the British Museum in London will train budding archaeologists in digitisation.

“Registries are a proven solution in the fight against cultural racketeering,” says Deborah Lehr, the chairman and co-founder of the Antiquities Coalition. The project, which is due to launch in early 2016 at a cost of around $1m, will be based at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo.

The initiative came out of a partnership formed in 2014 between the Antiquities Coalition and the Egyptian government, as well as the 2015 Cairo Declaration, in which ten countries in the Middle East and North Africa pledged to work across borders to preserve the region’s heritage.

PDF of the article here

Cultural Racketeering in Egypt: Predicting Patterns in Illicit Activity: Quantitative Tools of the 21st-Century Archaeologist

By: Katie A. Paul

The modern era of globalization has made the world more heavily connected than ever before, technologically, politically—and criminally. The Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 facilitated social movements that redefined the modern world. They also served as the catalyst for cultural racketeering—the systematic theft of art and antiquities by organized criminal syndicates.

KP Presentation slideThis study presents an examination of the patterns and trends of cultural racketeering in Egypt. Data was gathered from research and analysis of social media and media within Egypt and around the world. The various aspects of media examined reported on the threats and damage to cultural heritage in Egypt. Social media has proven to be a major means of information sharing in Egypt and the Middle East and North African region. The Egyptian population’s extensive engagement in social media was first displayed during the January 2011 revolution and has only increased in popularity since. This study breaks down the individual reports of looting and/or trafficking into demographic data, site classifications, and illicit activities taxonomies on a month-by-month basis in the years following the 2011 revolution. Graphing the quantitative data collected from the analysis of these on-the-ground reports provides a glimpse into the patterns that have emerged and the methods of operation for various types of looting and smuggling networks within Egypt. This quantitative examination reveals the patterns of cultural heritage crimes taking place in Egypt—and more importantly, identifies cyclical activities that can help predict the activities that lie ahead.

The post–Arab Spring expansion of criminal networks in the Middle East antiquities trade has created a new atmosphere where archaeologists must be investigators of the present as well as the past—navigating technology, politics, security, and economy to protect and preserve heritage and keep up with the criminals involved.

There is an increasing need for experts in the field to not just grasp the science of archaeology but also understand the dynamics affecting cultural heritage within political and economic sectors. Coordinating with the efforts of experts beyond the archaeological arena creates immense opportunity for archaeologists to undertake solutions to combatting cultural racketeering that are practical, workable, and flexible.

The Egyptian government is faced with the crisis of too many crimes and too few resources. By understanding established patterns in the illicit trafficking of antiquities, we can help governments allocate their already scant resources in the most effective manner to combat looting. Researching beyond the scope of the archaeological material affected and engaging in this quantitative ethnography of social media and media helps provide archaeologists and heritage experts with the tools to create a targeted approach to thwarting looting networks and their patterns of activity. This study has identified new tools, techniques, routes of research, and potential for cross-disciplinary cooperation to glean credible information pointing to activity cycles and overall trends of cultural racketeering in Egypt. The practical applications of this research toward streamlining government activities in the fight against looting can serve as a model for examining patterns and solutions in other tech-oriented nations facing challenges of high heritage crime coupled with low heritage resources.


This abstract for Cultural Racketeering in Egypt: Predicting Patterns in Illicit Activity: Quantitative Tools of the 21st-Century Archaeologist will be presented at the 117th Annual Archaeological Institute of America Meetings in San Francisco on the morning of Thursday, January 7. Antiquities Coalition Chief of Staff, Katie Paul will be presenting her research in session 2A beginning at 10:45am – check out the AIA program for more information! 

Economic Development and Site Preservation: Lawrence Coben’s Interview with the Antiquities Coalition

Lawrence S. Coben is the Executive Director of Sustainable Preservation Initiative. In this interview conducted during the September 24 New York Forum, Coben stresses how essential economic development is as a means to combat looting of archaeological sites and monuments. Coben states that the majority of looting is done for reasons of subsistence rather than for intentional, targeted destruction, which can be solved by dedicating efforts towards economic development of local communities. Such efforts can include identifying key markets, developing tourism, service, and craft industries, and capacity training local entrepreneurs in business skills. Coben is the Chairman and CEO of Tremisis Energy Corporation, and is a member of the NRG Energy and Freshpet boards, an Advisory Partner of Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners, and one of the founders of Catalyst Energy Corporation. He is additionally a consulting scholar and archaeologist affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Coben holds a BA in Economics from Yale University, a JD from Harvard Law School, and a PhD in Anthropology and Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania.