What Responsibility Do Archaeologists Have in the Fight Against Cultural Racketeering?

AIAIn an upcoming policy brief by Dr. Blythe Bowman-Balestrieri, the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank will be tackling an important question.

Do archaeologists have an ethical obligation to report looting?

To get feedback from those working in the field, we convened a roundtable discussion around this topic on January 4 at the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Input from professional archaeologists, students, lawyers, and interested members of the public contributed to a lively and productive discussion.

The conversation was moderated by Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition Tess Davis and Dr. Bowman-Balestrieri, a trained archaeologist and criminologist, who has extensively studied the illicit trade in ancient art and artifacts. Her research has shown that when archaeologists encounter evidence of looting, nearly a quarter fail to take any action.

In her forthcoming think tank paper, she will explore the reasons behind this inaction, the implications of it, and how the profession can improve.

Stay tuned for Dr. Bowman-Balestrieri’s policy brief, and check out past policy briefs, at the Antiquities Coalition Think Tank.

50 Years After the 1970 UNESCO Convention, The Work Continues

Dr. Neil Brodie presents on EU Regulation 2019/880

2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, providing an opportunity to reflect on the successes and challenges of its implementation.

AIA Annual Meeting: The Future of the 1970 UNESCO Convention

That was the focus of a workshop at the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting, held from January 2-5 in Washington, D.C. On January 4th, scholars and experts convened to discuss Antiquities, Illicit Trafficking, and Public Advocacy: The Future of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The workshop also honored the work of Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, recipient of the AIA 2020 Outstanding Public Service Award.

AC In the News: Deborah Lehr on Bloomberg to Discuss Targeting of Iranian Cultural sites

Deborah LehrAntiquities Coalition Chair and Founder Deborah Lehr sat down with David Westin on Bloomberg Markets last week to discuss reports that the U.S. government would consider targeting Iran’s cultural sites if Iran retaliated against the United States for the death of Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force.

What You Need to Know

Following Soleimani’s death, President Trump warned “if Iran strikes any Americans or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites… some at a very high level and important to Iran AND the Iranian culture.”  The intentional targeting of cultural sites is a war crime under The Hague Convention and is also contrary to existing U. S. policy.

“The administration has been a leader on this issue,” said Lehr. “They have been very active in negotiating with countries in the Middle East and North Africa, who have been suffering from violent extremism, suffering from the destruction of heritage, and negotiating cultural [memoranda of understanding] as well as using cultural diplomacy.”

Iran is home to 22 cultural World Heritage Sites, including the famed Persepolis, which was built by Darius I in 518 BC and then later sacked by Alexander the Great in 320 AD.

The President and the U.S. Department of Defense have since reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to safeguarding cultural heritage, even during times of conflict.

The Antiquities Coalition is encouraged by the swift reaction to the President’s threats, both by others in the administration, as well as people around the world. The State Department has been a leader in using cultural diplomacy to build ties, especially in the Middle East. This type of action would undermine both the spirit and the letter of the law.  Lehr commended the Defense Department for their work in this area and the President for clarifying his position on the matter. “If we can take a positive out of this negative, it definitely is that it raised awareness,” she said.

To watch the full interview, starting at the 29:24 mark,  click here.

To read the Antiquities Coalition’s statement that “culture should not be a military target,” click here.

Archaeological Institute of America Recognizes Leaders in the Field

AIA AwardsAntiquities Coalition Congratulates Honorees for Their Work to Study and Protect Our Past

Our partner, the Archaeological Institute of America, the oldest and largest archaeological organization in the United States, held its Annual Meeting from January 2-5 in Washington, D.C. The AIA Awards Ceremony, which celebrates leaders in the profession, took place on January 4.

This year, the AIA recognized the importance of the fight against the looting and trafficking of antiquities through honoring the tireless work of Dr. Patty Gerstenblith with the Outstanding Public Service Award.


A New Art Exhibit Shows Italy’s Commitment to Preserving Cultural Heritage

Brava ItaliaBrava Italia and Welcome, Generale Riccardo! A Commitment to Cultural Preservation

Italy’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Mariangela Zappia opened a new exhibit of artworks recovered by the Italian Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, Italy’s law enforcement agency responsible for the protection of cultural heritage.

The exhibit opened on Tuesday in New York and includes cultural objects repatriated by Carabinieri investigations. It underscores the UN’s commitment to cultural heritage preservation.

Ambassador Zappia and United Nations Secretary General António Gutteres highlighted Italy’s work, discussing its pivotal role at the United Nations in advocating cultural heritage preservation.

Both diplomats remarked on Italy’s efforts to get unanimous passage of the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 2347 that outlines UN policy on how to fight looting and the illicit trafficking of antiquities, the importance of which the Antiquities Coalition has written about before.


AC In the News: The New York Times Speaks to Deborah Lehr on the Reported U.S. Targeting of Iranian Cultural Sites

Persepolis in Iran
Persepolis in Iran – Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago

Since last week’s strike on Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, many have speculated on the long-term implications and the future of the relationship between the United States and Iran. One area of heated discussion is Washington’s stance on the country’s cultural sites, in response to reports that they were included on the U.S. military target list.

Antiquities Coalition Chairman and Co-Founder Deborah Lehr commented on the situation to the New York Times, stating: “The U.S. has taken a leadership role in the protection of antiquities from destruction and illicit trade, particularly in the Middle East. It would be a shame to see that global goodwill disappear by the intentional targeting and the destruction of cultural sites.” 

Antiquities Coalition: Culture Should Not Be a Military Target

Statement Follows Reports that the U.S. Government Would Consider Striking Iranian Cultural Sites

The Antiquities Coalition welcomes the statement by the U.S. Department of Defense reaffirming the United States’ longstanding commitment to safeguarding cultural heritage from war and terrorism—not just for preservation, but as a tool to share American values, build diplomatic ties, and fight violent extremism around the world. 

“Historically, the United States has been a leader in defending civilization from those who seek to rewrite history, whether the Nazis in World War II or ISIS today,” said Deborah Lehr, Chair and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition. “The Trump Administration has successfully used cultural heritage to strengthen counterterrorism and law enforcement cooperation with our partners across the Middle East and North Africa, resulting in the signing of an unprecedented number of bilateral agreements with countries such as Libya, Algeria, and Jordan. This outreach is both preserving history and furthering America’s other interests by recognizing and respecting the region as a cradle of civilization, art, writing, law, and faith.”

In recent years, world wonders such as the Great Pyramids, Palmyra, and Tomb of Jonah, as well as countless other sites and the communities surrounding them, have been targeted or outright destroyed by rogue states and violent extremists. These attacks followed the playbook of history’s most hated villains from the Third Reich, to the Khmer Rouge, and the Taliban.

We are grateful that the U.S. position on Iran has been clarified. Indeed, any efforts by the United States to harm cultural heritage would undermine our ethical and moral leadership at a critical time in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. 

Now is the time for Washington to build on decades of tireless efforts by our greatest Presidents, Generals, and generation after generation of American heroes in and out of uniform. This includes progress by the current administration, such as last October’s celebrated relaunching of the “Monuments Men and Women,” through which our armed forces are helping to secure cultural heritage in war and other disaster zones. This type of initiative exemplifies the best of the American tradition while strengthening our national security. 

Our country’s leaders may at times be called on to protect and defend America and our democracy, but it is critical that military actions are not taken at the expense of the values our nation embodies.



About the Antiquities Coalition 

To protect our shared heritage and global security, the Antiquities Coalition is leading the international campaign against cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in ancient art and artifacts. We champion better law and policy, foster diplomatic cooperation, and advance proven solutions with public and private partners worldwide. We are working toward a future when the past is preserved for the next generation, not looted, smuggled, and sold to finance crime, conflict, and terror. Learn more at theantiquitiescoalition.org.