Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Launched to Combat Financial Crimes via Art and Antiquities

Allies from the Financial, Legal, Law Enforcement, and Art Market Communities Lay Roadmap for Action

Hollywood, FL (April 16, 2019)—Today the Antiquities Coalition launched its new Financial Crimes Task Force, a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed to protect the $26.6 billion U.S. art market from criminals and violent extremists.

The Task Force, the first of its kind, unites leaders from the art, legal, and banking sectors, as well as former law enforcement and government officials. This diverse group of experts will work together in the coming months to develop concrete recommendations for combating a wide range of crimes, including money laundering, forgery, fraud, and terrorist financing, via art and antiquities. The task force was announced at the 14th annual international conference of the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS), the world’s largest financial crime prevention community.

This cross-industry initiative aims to increase transparency and communication between art market stakeholders, including financial institutions, law enforcement, legal professionals, ancillary services, art dealers, and auction houses, and other impacted parties.  The task force will identify and issue concrete typologies for how the financial industry can counter the use of art and antiquities in facilitating criminal activity, and work both with individual task force members and the wider community to achieve implementation. The initiative is chaired by John Byrne, Vice Chairman of AML RightSource and Senior Advisor to the ACAMS Advisory Board, Deborah Lehr, Antiquities Coalition Chairman and Founder, and Dennis Lormel, President of DML Associates LLC and former Senior Executive at the FBI. As the project progresses, the task force will spotlight individual members, but is presently seeking additional assistance from the various aforementioned communities.

“The fight against this illicit trade must cross borders and disciplines,” says Lehr, “and since our organization’s beginning, a key priority has been shutting the U.S. market to illicit antiquities, while encouraging responsible trade practices.”

The United States remains the world’s largest art market, valued at a $26.6 billion, and accounting for 44% of the global total in 2018. Furthermore, art and collectible wealth held by ultra-high-net-worth individuals is predicted to grow from an estimated $1.62 trillion in 2016 to $2.7 trillion in 2026. Such rapid growth, coupled with weak regulation, has made the art market increasingly attractive to criminals adept at exploiting legal and regulatory regimes.

Byrne adds: “Ancient art and antiquities can serve as sound investments, but they also carry a risk of supporting nefarious activity and compromising consumers. Working together won’t dampen competition or erode bottom lines. Instead, it can help make businesses overall more resilient and profitable.”

This efforts builds on similar initiatives by the Antiquities Coalition, including the #CultureUnderThreat Task Force, whose 2016 report, #CultureUnderThreat: Recommendations for the U.S. Government, called for new policies, practices, and priorities for U.S. policymakers, the international community, and the art market to reduce heritage destruction and looting, end impunity for the illicit trade in cultural patrimony, and sever this key source of funding for violent extremist groups. ACAMS is also a leading voice in the worldwide struggle to end trafficking of all kinds, and has led the financial industry’s efforts to combat human trafficking. The Antiquities Coalition is grateful for the organization’s leadership in tackling this threat to our shared heritage, markets, and international security.

From Hearing to Signing: What’s Happened While Libya Awaited Their MOU


The State Department has taken admirable steps to stem the flow of these illicit artifacts reaching the shores of the United States, home to the world’s largest art and antiquities market. Emergency restrictions on certain archaeological and ethnological materials from Libya were enacted on December 5, 2017.

These emergency restrictions emphasized the United States’ concern for the need to protect endangered Libyan cultural property. Two months after the implementation of these emergency restrictions, on February 23, 2018, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, I. Steven Goldstein, and Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Lutfi Almughrabi, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Libya and the United States. This bilateral cultural agreement will restrict the market of trafficked antiquities in the United States.

The bureaucratic process for this bilateral agreement began in June 2017 when the Department of State published notification that the Government of Libya submitted an official request seeking import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material.

The hearing included a period of public commentary where individuals and organizations may submit comments on Libya’s submission in accordance with the four determinations considered by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). The CPAC met on July 19–20 and resolved to enter into an agreement with the Government of Libya to restrict the import of cultural materials.

Since the CPAC hearing, Libya has continued to experience threats to their cultural heritage while also taking new steps to protect it in the midst of conflict. In the months that transpired between the July 2017 hearing and the February 2018 MOU signing, Libya has faced continued crisis which has fostered ongoing pillage and destruction of their cultural property. Yet even during this period of turmoil, cultural experts, authorities, and even citizens have upheld efforts to protect their history. This is a look at what has happened with Libya’s heritage during that six months.

Ongoing Trafficking

Lingering effects of clandestine Daesh (also known as ISIS) smuggling operations continue to be uncovered by Libyan officials. In late June 2017, the Libyan National Army (LNA) discovered artifacts from the Benghazi Museum in a Daesh stronghold. In October 2017, the Libyan Government expressed concerns over damage to the historic city of Sabratha “from the imminent danger of vandalism, and theft of its historical treasures because of armed clashes in the city and its surroundings.” As Daesh continues to operate surreptitiously in Libya, the nation’s culture remains under threats of pillaging and smuggling to finance criminal activities.

Police and other Libyan forces have continued to actively curb the trafficking of antiquities out of the country. Local police and special forces have recovered hundreds of artifacts, from Roman marble busts and statues awaiting transport in coastal houses, to hordes of silver coins being smuggled through Tripoli Mitiga International Airport. In late November 2017, Arabic media reported an “open online market for Libya” trafficking illicit antiquities. Artifacts range from Jewish manuscripts, to classical statues, and Ottoman era pieces – no period of Libya’s history is safe from traffickers while a market for this illicit material exists.

Civil Society Steps Up

Intentional and unintentional civilian endeavors have unearthed antiquities in recent months and shed light on the efforts of Libya’s civil society to protect their heritage. On July 2, a diver returned five Roman-era artifacts to the antiquities office in Derna that he had found during a diving operation. Just a few weeks later, outside of Tobruk, a Libyan citizen discovered a collection of Ptolemaic/Roman-era carved stones at a previously unknown site and notified the Department of Antiquities. In September, two young locals handed over a number of priceless antiques they had acquired from a local merchant. Civilians are also rallying to assist tourist police to protect and preserve Leptis Magna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. “We live here, we protect it,” said 60-year-old Ali Hrebish, one of the volunteers who keeps watch over the site, “for God and country.”

Antiquities Authorities Making Moves

In the months since the CPAC hearing, a bevy of new initiatives have taken root in Libya for the protection of cultural heritage. Colleagues from the University of Durham have been training Libyan antiquities experts on survey and documentation of archaeological sites using methods like GIS and 3D imaging. In October, the Libyan Antiquities Authority (LAA) began an effort to document and protect archaeological sites in the remote desert village of Jaghbub; similar projects are now being carried-out across the country. In Benghazi, Libyan authorities are converting the damaged palace of King Idris into an archaeological museum.

In August, The Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mohamed Eltaher Sayala, advocated for cooperation between all parties in the Libyan state to expedite the retrieval and protection of archaeological, historical, and cultural materials and demonstrate their provenience in Libya. After Spanish police seized 11 illicitly excavated artifacts from Shehat and Sousse, Dr. Hafez al-Waldeh remarked that the return of these pieces was a devastating blow to the gangs who are attempting to fund terrorist activity through the looting of cultural heritage.

Libya is making demonstrable strides in its efforts to protect the nation’s cultural heritage in the midst of an ongoing conflict, but there is still considerable ground to cover. In January 2018, Salafist Islamist groups renewed attacks on Sufi religious and cultural sites, systemic clandestine excavations continue to ravage cultural sites across the country.

Looking Ahead

While Libya is making great strides to protect its heritage, threats of looting remain during times of turmoil. Protecting a nation’s culture from becoming a commodity on the black market requires international cooperation. With the signing of the bilateral cultural agreement with Libya, the United States is taking steps to enhance that cooperation and ensure that the U.S. market for Libyan cultural property is closed to illicit material. While this is an important step toward protecting Libyan heritage, countries across the MENA region continue to face the same threats. Developing and enhancing regional and international cooperation is vital to ensure the preservation of cultural heritage across one of the most important archaeological regions on the planet.

Written by Katie A. Paul

Antiquities Coalition

Kazakhstan and United States Sign Bilateral Agreement to Preserve Jewish Heritage in Kazakhstan

Kazakh Culture and Sports Ministry and the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad
Source: PRNewsfoto/U.S. Commission

On October 11, 2018, the Kazakh Culture and Sports Ministry and the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad signed a memorandum of understanding on the preservation of cultural heritage sites in Kazakhstan of significance to Americans and their ancestors. Signed at the 6th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, held in the capital city of Astana, the agreement initiates cooperation between the United States and Kazakhstan to preserve the cultural heritage of national, ethnic, and religious groups that live or once lived in the territory of Kazakhstan, with a focus on Jewish heritage.

During World War II, Kazakhstan’s endless steppes and snow-capped mountains offered refuge to over 8,000 Jews, who were evacuated to Central Asia as Nazi troops advanced along the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1942. Later, under Stalin, thousands more were forcibly removed and exiled to Kazakhstan from Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, and the Baltics. In the 1950s and 1960s, a third wave relocated to Kazakhstan to participate in large-scale Soviet projects such as the Virgin Lands Campaign, which transformed Kazakhstan into one of the USSR’s leading grain producers, and construction of the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s first and largest space launch facility.

Kazakhstan is home to a population of 18 million, composed of over 100 distinct ethnic groups. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, independent Kazakhstan has experienced widespread cultural and religious revival; the country has further promoted religious diversity as part of its expansive cultural and economic development agenda. These movements have included the Jewish community, estimated to range in the tens of thousands, largely based in Almaty, Pavlodar, and Astana.

Whether closing U.S. borders to illicit antiquities or protecting the legacy of underrepresented groups in-country, bilateral agreements are a vital step in preserving cultural heritage for future generations. Cultural MOUs pave the way for cooperation in the protection and preservation of culture, thereby strengthening both economic and humanitarian bonds between nations. The Antiquities Coalition hopes that this agreement will be the first of many to preserve the rich tangible and intangible heritage of Kazakhstan, the heart of the ancient Silk Road and leader in globalizing Eurasia.

USCBS Annual Meeting Explores Recent Developments in Cultural Patrimony Protection in Combat Zones

On September 26, 2018, the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield held its annual meeting at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Speakers included Nancy Wilkie and Colonel Richard Jackson (USCBS), Amir Gamliel (U.S. Southern Command), Beatriz Haspo and Alan Haley (Library of Congress), Doug Comer (US/ICOMOS), Trudy Huskamp Peterson (archivist), and Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick (UKCBS).

Speakers engaged in a thought-provoking conversation analyzing a range of topics, including the strengths and weaknesses of 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols, USSOUTHCOM efforts in Central America, the challenges of implementing the World Heritage Site program in Central America and beyond, the CPIA MOU process, and the UK’s recent ratification of the Hague Convention. Archivists spoke of risk-management and disaster-preparedness in museums and libraries, with special attention paid to the tragic destruction of the National Museum of Brazil in early September, and the politicization of archival material in Guatemala. The discussion reiterated concerns raised by the Antiquities Coalition Task Force Report, particularly those related to the Armed Forces and Department of Defense, and further drew attention to the importance of digitization of cultural patrimony, such as that conducted by the Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME).

USCBS playing cards specifically developed for USSOUTHCOM were also debuted. Appearing for the first time in both Spanish and English, the cards feature Central and South American artifacts, and focus on site looting and inadvertent purchase of conflict antiquities.  These unique playing cards provide both entertainment and subtle education about the significance of protecting culturally rich sites and historic artifacts in combat zones. Funding for the project was provided by the Smithsonian Institution and facilitated by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Global Hope Coalition Awarded the Sesame Workshop at Annual Dinner

Sherri Westin, President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, accepting the award.
Sherri Westin, President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, accepting the award.

The Annual Global Hope Coalition Dinner awarded the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop a joint award for a 100 million-dollar project funded by the MacArthur Foundation to address early childhood education of Syrians displaced by the civil war. Sherri Westin, President of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

The Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street that helps “kids grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.” The Sesame Workshop works in over 150 countries, with numerous initiatives all over the world including the Middle East and North Africa. They teach young children a range of topics, from literacy and numeracy to respect and understanding. Studies show that preschoolers who watch Sesame Street do significantly better on a whole range of cognitive outcomes —than those who don’t. With their track record of success, the Sesame Workshop is a deserving recipient of this award.


Global Hope Coalition Dinner Honored Heroes against Extremism and Intolerance

Last week heads of State and Government — joined by leaders in humanitarian efforts and the art world — convened in New York to pay tribute to heroes who have made it their mission to counter violent extremism while advocating for peace and international engagement. The dinner hosted by the Global Hope Coalition on September 27th, 2018, under the spotlight of the United Nations General Assembly’s 73rd session, aimed to create partnerships and resources that can help wipe out violent extremism.

AC Chairman Deborah Lehr speaking at the Global Hope Coalition Annual Dinner

The Global Hope Coalition is a network of three not-for-profit foundations based in New York, Zurich, and Hong Kong is establishing a global platform to empower courageous individuals who stand up to terror and violence, preserve our cultural heritage, and build bridges across cultures. Each year the coalition identifies Heroes of the Global Campaign against Extremism and Intolerance and pays tribute to their efforts. During her opening speech Irina Bokova, former UNESCO Director-General, recognized the Antiquities Coalition’s tireless work in this field, stating “Deborah Lehr, who is also founding and chairing the Antiquities Coalition, is doing incredible work to counter looting, to fight the looting of antiquities, the illicit trafficking of art, and, through this, financing of extremism and terrorism.”

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, addressing the room.
Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, addressing the room.

The evening began with Special Recognition Awards. The President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou was recognized for his work to promote peaceful Islam in the Sahel region. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi was awarded for his efforts towards cohesion and national unity in one of the world’s youngest democracies. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted her government and people’s compassion and rapid response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was awarded for his country’s diligent multilateral engagement to provide critical humanitarian aid and education for the enormous influx of refugees to Greece. Finally, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the breakout novel Americanah was also awarded.

The 2018 Heroes against Extremism and Intolerance Awardees included Lebanese Parliamentarian and political leader Fouad Makhzoumi; Bochra Belhaj Hmida, a Tunisian Member of Parliament; female Imam Sherin Khankan, the daughter of a Syrian refugee now leading Maryam Mosque in Copenhagen; Delphine Horvilleur, a Rabbi who has become a powerful voice in her native France against anti-Semitism, prejudice and rejection of the Other; Omer Al-Turabi, a Sudanese author and advocate of a tolerant and peaceful Islam; and Mamadou Gassama, a Malian migrant now known as the “Paris Spiderman”.

To learn more about the Global Hope Coalition, visit their website.

Engaging Shared Heritage

On September 26th, on the sidelines of the 73rd Annual United Nations General Assembly, the New York Public Library (NYPL) hosted a fascinating symposium on the critical role that cultural institutions play in engaging shared heritage. There the NYPL and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF) reaffirmed their commitment to promoting cultural exchange and increasing access to their respective collections by signing an inter-institutional agreement to share their collections.

The Antiquities Coalition’s Co-Founder, Peter Herdrich, moderated an engaging discussion on safeguarding cultural heritage under the threat of conflict. He began by stating that initiatives like the Bibliotheques d’Orient and the Antiquities Coalition’s Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME) serve to create solutions to such problems by spearheading the digitization of collections of the Middle East and North Africa region. These initiatives also work to show communities that they are valued in the international sphere and start the dialogue between western organizations and nations under threat.

The panelists included a wide range of international experts. Father Samer Yohanna of the Salahaddin University – Erbil spoke extensively of his work to protect manuscripts on the heritage of the Syriac-speaking populations of Iraq and the importance of opening up the impressive collection to the rest of the world.

Annie Sartre-Fauriat, Emeritus Professor of Ancient History and an expert on the Syrian site of Palmyra, spoke on the issues of the post-conflict rebuilding of the ancients sites destroyed at the hands of Daesh (ISIS). She advocated for the restoration of the site using the highest standards of conservation practices while continuing the archaeological work on the site, as much as 80% the site remains undiscovered.

Father Columba Stewart began with underlining the longevity of manuscript preservation by speaking on the microfilming of Benedictine manuscripts in fear of the effects of the Cold War. Although the manuscripts remain safe, Father Columba highlighted the need for forward-thinking actions and preventive actions to take in anticipation for conflict and disasters.

To learn more about the DLME and Bibliotheques d’Orient you can visit their websites.

Under UNGA Spotlight, Global Hope Coalition Honors Local Activists Fighting Extremism and Intolerance

Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heroes Awarded for Response to Global Refugee Crisis and Efforts to Fight Xenophobia

NEW YORK, Sept. 28, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Before a packed ballroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the Global Hope Coalition, a network of four nonprofit foundations in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa dedicated to identifying heroes against violent extremism and amplifying their work, held its annual awards dinner Thursday.

Taking place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly’s 73rd session, the event paid tribute to several presidents and prime ministers for their “compassionate and dignified response” to the Syrian and Rohingya refugee crises.

Highlighting the evening were the 2018 Hero Awards, presented to three women and two men from Sudan, Tunisia, France, Denmark, and Mali for their courageous stance against jihadi extremism and xenophobic intolerance in their home countries and around the world.

“Last year’s Global Hope dinner showed us there is a dire need – and indeed room in the global conversation – for an organization that is dedicated to shining a light on the countless individuals that stand up to extremism every single day,” said Irina Bokova, the honorary president of Global Hope Coalition and former director general of UNESCO. “Too often, we find ourselves talking about failures in the global fight against extremism. But these individuals tell a very different story – one that can be showcased, amplified, and ultimately emulated. This year’s honorees show us true courage, determination, and resolve – characteristics each and every one of us can draw on to build a peaceful global society.”

The evening led off with Special Distinctions for Leadership, presented to: President of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou for his work to promote peaceful Islam in the Sahel region; Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi for his efforts towards cohesion and national unity in one of the world’s youngest democracies; Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for her government and people’s compassion and rapid response to the Rohingya refugee crisis; and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for his country’s diligent multilateral engagement to provide critical humanitarian aid and education for the enormous influx of refugees to Greece.

In addition to sizable delegations from Niger, Tunisia, Greece, and Bangladesh, heads of state from Angola, Nigeria, and Senegal each sent high-level personal envoys to show their support for the Global Hope Coalition and its work.

The ceremonies continued with recognition of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of the breakout novel Americanah. The Syrian refugee crisis was the focus of two awards: one to Lebanese Parliamentarian and political leader Fouad Makhzoumi, for his foundation’s humanitarian assistance to refugees in Lebanon, and a joint award to the International Rescue Committee and Sesame Workshop, for a 100 million-dollar project funded by the MacArthur Foundation to address early childhood education of Syrians displaced by the civil war.

The 2018 Heroes of the Global Campaign against Extremism and Intolerance came from every corner of the globe and have each contributed meaningfully to peace and tolerance in their communities and countries. Heroes honored last night were Bochra Belhaj Hmida, a Tunisian Member of Parliament; female Imam Sherin Khankan, the daughter of a Syrian refugee now leading Maryam Mosque in Copenhagen; Delphine Horvilleur, a Rabbi who has become a powerful voice in her native France against anti-Semitism, prejudice and rejection of the Other; Omer Al-Turabi, a Sudanese author and advocate of a tolerant and peaceful Islam; and Mamadou Gassama, a Malian migrant now known as the “Paris Spiderman” who saved a child by climbing the façade of a building in Paris last May and has since become the face of untold suffering by tens of thousands of young Africans trying to reach Europe.

The event marked the second annual dinner for the Global Hope Coalition, which was launched in 2016 to convene prominent influencers around a common goal: finding and highlighting local activists fighting extremism, preaching tolerance, and dedicated to fostering diverse and inclusive societies.

“Violent extremism is a cancer that needs to be rooted out locally, through the actions of courageous women and men in vulnerable communities around the world,” said Abe Radkin, chief executive of the Coalition. “We owe it to these Heroes to empower them through better training, better networking and greater awareness.”

In addition to its annual dinner, Global Hope serves as a global convener and resource for individuals and groups engaged in promoting cross-cultural dialogue, peace, and tolerance. Serving as a link between countries, organizations, and people, the Coalition facilitates partnerships with stakeholders around the globe to increase heroes’ capacity, expand their reach, and extend their capabilities on the ground.

“The added exposure of being declared a Global Hope Hero last year gave my organization a huge boost,” said Dr. Waheed Arian, director of TeleHeal, a London-based nonprofit organization that mobilizes volunteer physicians in the UK to advise local doctors working in conflict zones through Skype. “Global Hope helped us increase our impact on the ground, and form a partnership with the World Health Organization.” Arian arrived in the UK as a teenage refugee from Afghanistan.

“We’re committed to taking the energy that coalesces around this night and translating it into meaningful partnerships and resources that can help shift not only the balance of power in this fight, but actually create a seismic shift that can help wipe out violent extremism,” said Deborah Lehr, Chair of Global Hope USA and Chairman of global cultural racketeering and theft prevention project the Antiquities Coalition.

SOURCE Global Hope Coalition

Palmyra’s Arch Frames Democratic Traditions in the Capital

On the Mall amid institutions and museums and with the Capitol as a backdrop, on September 26, 2018 the Institute for Digital Archaeology (IDA) unveiled a reconstruction of Palmyra’s lost arch.

The reconstructed Palmyra arch on the National Mall.

The original arch was destroyed in 2015 by Daesh (ISIS), making international headlines and underscoring how extremism threatens vital chapters of our global history and heritage.

This reconstruction was created using 3-D scanning, printing, and carving technology. The IDA’s reconstruction, carved from the same marble as the original, is an international symbol of resistance and fortitude in the face of extremist groups. This reconstruction has been displayed in New York City’s City Hall Plaza, London’s Trafalgar Square, the G7 Summit in Florence, Italy, and at Dubai’s World Government Summit. Most profoundly, the arch was also unveiled in Arona, Italy by the sons of Khaled al-Asaad, chief archaeologist of Palmyra, who was murdered by Daesh terrorists in August 2015 at the age of 83.

In his speech at the unveiling ceremony, Roger Michel, Executive Director of the IDA, remarked that the reconstruction brings lost monuments back to life. He declared:

Now the arch, quite fittingly, has made its way to the place that symbolizes democracy worldwide, Roman-style representative democracy that is celebrated, not just in the classical buildings that surround us, but also in the design of Palmyra’s monumental classical arch, as well. They all share the same DNA, and remind us that what happens here – what our honored guests do every day in that iconic building framed by the arch behind me – connects us to ancient traditions that have survived throughout the millennia because there is something about them that is worth preserving– just like it is worth preserving the ancient objects that embody and recall the history of that legacy.”

With its Roman columns alluding to an ancient representative democracy, the arch now frames the United States capitol. Fittingly, Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), two longtime advocates for the protection of global cultural heritage, provided remarks at the unveiling. The two Congressmen have sponsored key bipartisan legislation to protect and preserve cultural heritage and to cut off terrorist financing from looted antiquities. Their bipartisan achievements in the cultural protection realm include legislation such as 2016’s Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act.

Find more information on the demand for Palmyra’s looted antiquities here.

From the Nile to the Potomac: International Cooperations Continue in Documenting Cultural Heritage

During the week of September 10, 2018, seven Egyptian archaeological experts—including museum curators, archeologists, and archivists—traveled to Washington D.C. through the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) under the theme “Documenting Cultural Heritage.” The Antiquities Coalition and its initiative with the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), the Digital Library of the Middle East (DLME), were pleased to host the delegates and have an engaging conversation on our ongoing efforts to implement practical solutions to document and preserve Egypt’s rich cultural patrimony. They were joined by the SmartWater Foundation, a not-for-profit company focused on utilizing cutting-edge forensic technologies to protect the World’s cultural heritage, that is at risk of being stolen.

The delegates were very engaged with information on DLME and in particular, the use of 3D imagery. The experts agreed that there is a growing need for more detailed archiving of collections as well as a need for a centralized location of provenance information. The DLME is setting a high bar for record keeping and is a natural partner for institutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The DLME aims to create an internationally shared digital inventory of cultural artifacts, to include detailed and culturally nuanced descriptions, and confirm objects’ appearance and provenance. Records from the DLME would be made publicly available to encourage scholarly discoveries and a greater appreciation of the region’s rich heritage and living peoples while helping to safeguard fundamentally important expressions of our cultural commonwealth and shared humanity. Learn more about the DLME here.

The delegates then learned about SmartWater, an odorless, colorless liquid that when applied to an object is invisible to the naked eye but can be detected under UV light. After hearing about the successes that SmartWater has had with protecting objects in Syria, the delegates were eager to take the information on this new technology to their home institutions.

As a part of its mission, the Antiquities Coalition encourages international cooperation and the implementation of innovative and practical solutions. Convening archaeological experts with those from the world of technology and forensics has, once again, made for a productive meeting and created new potential partnerships for cultural heritage protection.

About the IVLP

The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program. Through short-term visits to the United States, current and emerging foreign leaders in a variety of fields experience this country firsthand and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts. Professional meetings reflect the participants’ professional interests and support the foreign policy goals of the United States. You can learn more about the IVLP program here.

Culture Under Threat: Freer Gallery of Art Unveils New Exhibit on Ancient Yemeni Art in Danger

The International Council of Museums’ “Red List” for Yemen, published 2018
The International Council of Museums’ “Red List” for Yemen, published 2018

Yemen: Culture and Conflict

In April 2018, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Gutierres declared the war in Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Since the beginning of hostilities in 2015 between Houthi rebels and the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s government, three million people have been displaced, and up to 22 million could be at risk of famine. Conservatively more than 10,000 have been killed. Yemen’s rich cultural heritage, too, has been devastated by the conflict.

A new exhibit at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. provides an opportunity for the public to learn more about Yemen’s heritage, now under threat by the ravages of war. Shelling in Taa’iz set fire to the town’s museum in 2016, destroying the building and its renowned collection of Islamic copper vases and golden clocks, which has been repeatedly looted throughout the last several years. All three of Yemen’s cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Historic Town of Zabid, the Old Walled City of Shibam, and the Old City of Sana’a, have been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the latter two in 2015 due to airstrikes and shelling. In a 2015 statement, then-UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova condemned the destruction. “In addition to causing terrible human suffering,” she said, “these attacks are destroying Yemen’s unique cultural heritage, which is the repository of people’s identity, history and memory and an exceptional testimony to the achievements of the Islamic civilization.”

The loss of Yemen’s cultural heritage features prominently in the news, yet many Americans may be unfamiliar with the art at risk. While the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome fascinate the public imagination, Yemeni antiquities have remained the purview of archaeologists and scholars. This knowledge gap can impede efforts to save them. The Freer’s recently opened exhibit, “A Glimpse of Ancient Yemen” (on view until August 18, 2019) aims to fill the information vacuum. It celebrates Yemen’s rich heritage and reminds visitors of the war’s devastating effects on culture.

Yemen at a Glimpse

Lion with rider, 75 BCE–50 CE, bronze

The Freer’s exhibit is truly a glimpse, as it consists of only five antiquities from the museum’s permanent collection: a sculpted head of a woman, a cast bronze statue of a lion and rider, and three funerary statues. Despite its limited scale, the exhibit provides a highly informative look at an under-studied subject. “A Glimpse of Ancient Yemen” does not overwhelm or confuse viewers. Its intimacy allows for museum guests to interact more closely with the objects, which have been carefully chosen to represent the artistic styles and ways of life of the ancient kingdom of Qataban, in modern-day Yemen, around the last century BCE and first century CE. All were excavated by the archaeologist Wendell Phillips and his associates during expeditions in 1950 and 1951.

An informational wall panel provides key contextual information on Yemen’s ancient history, describing the confluence of trade routes in Timna, capital of the Qataban kingdom. Caravans laden with frankincense, myrrh, and other valuable goods enriched this dynamic region, earning it the Roman name Arabia Felix (Arabia, the Prosperous). The Freer highlights two vibrant cultural traditions from this period: alabaster carving and bronze casting.

“South Arabian Mona Lisa”

An alabaster and plaster head of a woman, found in the Timna cemetery by Phillips and dubbed the “South Arabian Mona Lisa” by Freer curators, is one of the most stunning antiquities included in the exhibit. Its polished stone surface glows in the twilight of the gallery, reveals the truth. The unknown Yemeni artist has elongated human proportions to grant the subject an aura of elegance impossible for a human face to attain in reality. Veins running vertically through the creamy stone reinforce the gracefulness of the swan-like neck.

The undulating pleats of a trapezoidal plaster hairstyle — having survived nearly intact since Antiquity — frame the woman’s gentle face. The diagonal sides of this coiffure direct the viewer’s gaze up, past the stately neck, along the transversal of the nose, showcasing the delicately sculpted features. An ambiguous smile, reminiscent of that belonging to Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, graces her finely molded face. The soft bulge of her cheekbones and the shallow concavity of her dimples suggest warm flesh and a personable spirit within. She raises one incised eyebrow as if registering the momentary laughter of an ancient joke, now frozen in time.

A Portrait of Plunder

This sculpture features prominently on the cover of the International Council of Museums’ “Red List” to combat looting in Yemen. ICOM regularly publishes these informational booklets for areas in crisis to help government officials, military personnel, and individuals learn how to identify art objects at risk of theft or illegal exportation. Looting has plagued Yemen for years. In 2012, the Museum of Zinjibar was plundered. Then, in a high-profile discovery, a cache of likely stolen Yemeni artifacts was found in the Geneva freeport in 2013. In a recent report, Yemeni cultural authorities identified 21 antiquities of illicit origin for sale in online marketplaces. Since the latest round of fighting broke out, looting has worsened, as thieves use political chaos as a cover to rob museums and archaeological sites.

The Aden National Museum, home to one of the premier collections of Aksumite and Roman coins in the world, is missing over 1,000 coins. In 2017, authorities seized a shipment of unprovenanced ancient Yemeni copper antiquities in Oman. In 2018, Yemeni port officials discovered a stash of smuggled ancient Islamic glassware, jewelry, and woodwork. In a region rife with terrorism, the sale of artifacts on the black market may be an enticing funding opportunity for extremist groups. In fact, the culture minister of Yemen, Marwan Dammaj, has accused Houthi rebels of looting museums, archaeological excavations, and cultural heritage sites and selling their finds abroad. The handsome antiquities on display in the Freer can only hint at the vast numbers of treasures under threat in Yemen today.

The Freer’s “South Arabian Mona Lisa” is the standout star of the exhibition, but this does not mean that the other Yemeni antiquities are insignificant. These objects, impressive in their own right, recount for viewers the history of the ancient Qataban kingdom. A large cast-bronze statue of a boy riding a lion attests to the diverse, multicultural society produced by the intermingling of Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Persians along trade routes. The naturalism of the figures’ modeling attests to the Greek influence in Arabia, as does the iconography. The lion with young boy rider is a common motif of the cult of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and a popular deity in this region. Bronze casting, like alabaster carving, was a notable Qataban tradition, making this artifact a striking visual testament to cultural exchange in ancient Yemen.

This sculpture rewards close looking, as one can witness an interesting contrast between the doughy physique of the toddler and the taut musculature of his steed. In a twist of irony, the two mirror each other, each lifting up a paw (for the lion) or arm (for the boy). While awkward, crouching below the sculpture and looking upwards allows the visitor to obtain a new perspective on the artwork. This angle better reveals the faces, which appear downcast from a head-on view. From below, on the other hand, the lion and boy appear to be grinning; the lion even seems to stick out its tongue at a jaunty angle. Perhaps they, too, are amused by the same joke that brought a smile to the face of the museum’s Yemeni “Mona Lisa.”

Profound Traditions

A glass case with three funerary statues, two carved from alabaster and one from travertine, reveal more about the ancient Yemenis’ cultural practices. Fashioned in a similar style as the sculpted woman’s head and unearthed in the same cemetery, they suggest a profound tradition of remembrance of the dead. The statues stare forward with gaping eyes, hands clasped as if in prayer or outstretched as if to present a votive offering. While their features are stylized, inscriptions on bases of two of the statues provide a hint of detail about the deceased they honor: one is identified as “Gabi of the family of Hani’mat,” the other as Wahab’il dhu-Dhamar’il. Today, they seem to mourn the ongoing loss of Yemen’s cultural heritage, the destruction of the artworks linking the Yemeni people with the proud history of their ancestors.

The turmoil in Yemen, makes the Freer’s exhibit all the more imperative. “A Glimpse of Ancient Yemen” provides additional context to the war and its victims, which encompass not only human lives, but also cultural heritage.

Andrew Lokay is an intern at the Antiquities Coalition. Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, he is now a student at Stanford University, where he studies International Relations and French. If you are interested in interning at the Antiquities Coalition please send a resume and cover letter to

The AC Digs Into: The Destruction of Knowledge Systems

Dr. Rebecca Knuth is a leading expert in the destruction of books, libraries, and archives and the motivation that leads regimes to destroy whole systems of knowledge. She has written two books about book burning and cultural destruction: Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century and Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction. To learn more about Dr. Knuth’s work, visit her website at


What is “libricide”?

“Cide” means killing, so libricide is the killing of libraries, books, and other bibliographical material. More specifically, libricide is the regime-sponsored violent destruction of books and libraries in modern times. It is the destruction of a system. Akin to genocide or ethnocide, libricide is often committed for ideological reasons.

What are the most severe threats to bibliographical materials today?

Imploding societies. Books, libraries, and archives are most threatened where there is war, extremism, and ethnic or religious conflict.

Is the threat to bibliographical material different than the threat to antiquities?

While there is overlap between the two, there are several important differences. First, the material format; books are made of paper. This makes them especially vulnerable when exposed to the elements or burned. Second, the content of bibliographical material makes them prime targets because they provide witness to alternative claims and alternative belief systems. Third, the symbolic nature of books and records make them a particularly satisfying target. Books are tied in with cultural claims

of identity and status as a sophisticated society or people, which gives them a particular symbolic importance.

What are the necessary steps to counter these threats?

At the very least, we need to digitize and secure the content. Any type of antiquity is a text, but if you take it out of its context, you lose a lot of meaning. Books and records can carry their context better than artifacts. Second, we must focus on prevention and become less reactionary. The cultural heritage community must figure out “why” bibliographical materials are targeted.

What’s one thing the cultural heritage community can do differently or improve?

We need focus on coalitions across fields and countries that bring everyone to the table. Not just archaeologists or diplomats, but librarians, political groups, and religious groups.

What’s next for you?

I am still transitioning, post-retirement, from academic writing to more popular non-fiction. Currently, I am finishing a book on women writers and censorship, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Sylvia Plath.