Preserving Algerian Cultural Heritage: Bardo Museum Launches Digitization Lab

Antiquities Coalition Leads International Team in Building Digital Infrastructure

An international team of experts from Algeria, Egypt, and the United States have introduced a new digitization lab at the Bardo Museum, a first in Algeria. Led by the US-based Antiquities Coalition (AC), the project designed and installed a laboratory to digitize and document the Bardo’s museum collection and to build a database that will be accessible to the public via the Internet.

The AC brought together the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation, which led the training for and installation of the lab; the Bardo and five additional Algerian museums; the Algerian Ministry of Culture and the Arts; and the US Embassy in Algiers, which provided funding for the project. US Ambassador Elizabeth Moore Aubin cut the ribbon on the new lab in the Bardo’s facility in their 18th century palace. 

“This was truly an international effort,” Ambassador Aubin explained. “Supporting cultural heritage in Algeria is a top priority of the United States and one that we are proud to work on with such a diverse group of experts.”

Mme. Soraya Mouloudji, Algeria’s Minister of Culture and Arts, commented, “The preservation of culture is especially important in Algeria. We have a very long human history and outstanding collections that we want to share. We are pleased to work with our international partners to reveal so much about Algeria’s past.” 

In addition to the Bardo museum, representatives from five other Algerian museums joined the training.

“This is a major step forward for Algerian museums,” explained project director and AC Co-founder Peter Herdrich. “We scaled up the project to include these five other museums that will be able to build their own digital infrastructure. We have been working with the Ministry of Culture and Arts on heritage projects for the last two years and this is a great example of working as a coalition on a larger project supporting Algerian heritage.”

“We designed a curriculum specifically for these trainees,” training director Abdelhamid Salah of the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Fund said. “When you work with excellent partners, it inspires you to do your best. And that’s what happened here.” 

The Bardo Museum specializes in Algerian prehistory, tracing back more than two million years to the dawn of man. 

Museum director, Zoheir Harichane, said, “Algeria is a spot where human culture originated. We want our collections to be visible on the Internet, to share our magnificent objects with the Algerian and worldwide publics. This allows us to do that and make Algeria’s culture part of the worldwide understanding of human history and how it developed.”

For more information, contact Ms. Abir Chorfa at For more information about collaboration on advanced training projects in museum, library, archive, and manuscript skills and infrastructure and other cultural heritage preservation projects, contact Peter Herdrich at

UNCAC Coalition Adds Antiquities Coalition to its Growing Roster of Global Anti-Corruption Organizations

For centuries, civilizations have undertaken efforts to protect and preserve their cultural heritage as enemies have sought to strip it from them. The illicit trade in art and antiquities continues today—and law enforcement and government agencies are struggling to keep up as corruption runs rampant.

The Antiquities Coalition is thrilled to announce that it has joined the UNCAC Coalition, a leading anti-corruption network. This global coalition includes over 350 civil society organizations (CSOs) in over 100 countries committed to promoting the ramification, implementation, and monitoring of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). UNCAC Coalition members work in anti-corruption, human rights, labor rights, governance, economic development, environment, and private sector accountability.

Anti-corruption organizations play an important role in ending cultural racketeering to protect ethical collectors and consumers. Being part of this network will allow the Antiquities Coalition to collaborate with like-minded organizations that can effectively push for anti-corruption legislation and the inclusion of antiquities trafficking in the UNCAC framework. 

The Antiquities Coalition continues to advocate for international governments to close loopholes in the art market regulation that allows for corruption and other financial crimes and looks forward to collaborating with the UNCAC Coalition to achieve these goals.

AC Joins Global Leaders At CEA Event to Discuss the Role of Museums

Cultural heritage is critical to telling stories and sharing the rich history of civilizations worldwide. As the illicit trade in art and antiquities continues at a rapid pace, it is essential to uncover ways to preserve and protect our shared history.

While collectors, governments, law enforcement, and more can assist in ending these crimes, museums play a unique role as intermediaries between cultures. As trusted institutions, museums must collect these artifacts legally and ethically to share and connect our stories.

On May 18 and 19, the Antiquities Coalition joined the China-Europe-America Initiative and other global leaders for an event to commemorate International Museum Day. The “Third Dialogue: Museums as Cultural Intermediaries in the Dialogue Between Civilizations” featured conversations about how museums can better preserve and protect art and antiquities.

Deborah Lehr, Chair and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, emphasized the power of museums in her opening remarks:

“Museums have a unique ability—and responsibility—to harness the power of cultural heritage. Responsible cultural exchange can foster mutual understanding, appreciation, and respect. The lawful and ethical collection and trade in antiquities can do the same, so long as it does not harm local communities, disrupt the historical record, or fund crime, conflict, or violent extremism. Finally, repatriation can serve as a bridge between cultures, and moreover, an opportunity to right past wrongs.”

The Antiquities Coalition looks forward to seeing how these discussions will strengthen international museum practices and global policies to fight the illicit antiquities trade.Learn more about the event here.

Scaling Up: AC Hosts Digitization and Preservation Training for Museums

Unprecedented registration as over 1100 sign on 

Over 1100 individuals registered for the Antiquities Coalition’s most recent Arabic-language training on digitization, documentation, and preservation strategies for museums—an unprecedented number and a robust indication of the global need for cultural heritage preservation instruction.

The AC worked with longtime partners at the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF), whose Chairman, Abdelhamid Salah, designed and led three days of instruction with the EHRF team. The project was conceived by the AC and EHRF to appeal to a broad audience.

“We set out thinking about training at scale, and how we could reach a significantly larger audience,” explained Peter Herdrich, the AC’s Co-founder and the project’s executive director. “We made the training free, online, and in Arabic, all to reach an underserved audience. And we worked with some of the best and most well-known trainers in the Arabic-speaking world. I think those approaches drove registration.”

“We take the time to train in a number of skills,” explained Mr. Salah. “It is a three-day training, and we discuss digitization, documentation, collections stabilization, and data and museum management. Our goal is to provide value by teaching the important concepts and practical applications of heritage preservation for museums and to open more approaches for collaboration.”

The training regime is part of a project organized by the AC, EHRF, and the Algerian Ministry of Culture and the Arts, generously sponsored by the US Embassy in Algiers and the US State Department’s Cultural Property Agreement Implementation Grant (CPAIG) program. This online instruction is the first step in a more in-depth training program with Algerian museum partners, including the upcoming installation of a digitization laboratory at the Bardo Museum in Algiers and two weeks of in-person advanced training with EHRF and AC instructors in Algeria.

 “Our cultural heritage preservation work shows us that there are a vast number of heritage colleagues longing for skills development. To provide that service in a timely and successful way, we need to scale up all our efforts,” said Herdrich. “Whether it is training, digital infrastructure, or responses to conflict, we need to recognize the risks to culture under threat and go.”

For more information, contact Ms. Abir Chorfa at

For more information about collaboration on advanced training projects in museum, library, archive, and manuscript skills and infrastructure and other cultural heritage preservation projects, contact Peter Herdrich at

Metropolitan Museum of Art Signals Major Shift In its Approach to Contested Antiquities

Decision Follows Growing Number of Seizures, Investigations, and Prosecutions Targeting Its Collections 

The Antiquities Coalition welcomes statements from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) committing to new policies and practices on ancient art and artifacts, including a recognition from Director Max Hollein that “Whatever unlawfully entered our collection, should not be in our collection.” The pledges mark a reversal from the Met’s earlier stance, which largely resisted calls to probe looted and stolen pieces within the institution’s walls. The Antiquities Coalition has been at the forefront of these requests, urging the museum to take “strong, concrete, and immediate action” in response to recent scandals, joining such varied voices as law enforcement, investigative journalists, activists, and even comedians like John Oliver. 

The Met’s plan, announced May 9 in The New York Times, includes hiring a provenance research team of four experts to audit its holdings, as well as forming a committee of 18 curators, conservators, and others to review all legal and ethical guidelines. The museum would also work to “convene thought leaders, advocates and opinion makers” in the field. These efforts align with specific recommendations outlined by the Antiquities Coalition, such as launching a task force, building capacity in provenance research, strengthening best practices, and using the institution’s platform both to raise awareness of the problem and to find solutions. Once implemented, these steps could set a new global standard, given the Met’s position as the largest and most visited art museum in the Western hemisphere.

Hollein, the Met’s Director, specifically committed to “broaden, expedite and intensify research into all works that came to the museum from art dealers who have been under investigation.” He estimated this number would total several hundred objects or more. A recent exposé from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that at least 1,109 pieces in the museum’s catalog have close ties to individuals indicted or convicted of antiquities crimes—309 of which remained on display. It is not clear whether the latter items are the priorities to which Hollein referred, but the Met has 1.5 million works in its total collection, which span some 5,000 years of human history.

The Antiquities Coalition appreciates that the Met and its leadership are listening to public calls to strengthen transparency and due diligence. The institution, with an endowment of $3.3 billion and an annual budget of around $300 million, can and should be the gold standard in the United States and even the world. Concrete actions like those announced this week would go far to making that goal a reality.

AC’s Tess Davis Shares Advice for Students Interested In Cultural Heritage Careers

The field of cultural heritage is made up of many different disciplines and focus topics, including archaeology, museums, art crime, international trade in looted antiquities, antiquities repatriation, and heritage tourism. The collective work of these fields is critical to preserving and protecting our shared history for future generations. 

To introduce students to rewarding careers in the cultural heritage field, Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, joined fellow experts during a roundtable event at Boston University (BU) to discuss their professional experience and answer questions about how to get started in the field. 

“Ask the Experts: Career Paths in Cultural Heritage Management” featured Davis alongside:

  • Dr. Chris Jasparro, Associate Professor in the National Security Affairs Department and Director of the Africa Regional Studies Group at the Naval War College.
  • Victoria Reed, the Sadler Curator for Provenance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
  • Susan de Menil, the founding co-president of the Art, Antiquities, and Blockchain Consortium (AABC), a nonprofit 501(c)3 that uses blockchain-based infrastructure to guide the future of cultural heritage repatriation.
  • Anthony Amore, an internationally recognized expert in the security realm, previously holding positions at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the U.S. Immigration Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Security Division.
  • Ricardo Elia, Associate Professor of Archaeology in the College of Arts and Sciences, Boston University.

Davis, an alumni of BU, collaborated with Robert E. Murowchuck, Director of Undergraduate Studies of BU’s Archaeology Program, to organize the event. For students interested in pursuing a career in cultural heritage, learn more about the Antiquities Coalition’s internship program.

Met Gala Looks vs. Loot

AC Compares Couture Outfits to Contested Artifacts in Campaign Urging Met to Reevaluate Role in Illicit Trade

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is synonymous with the famous ornate structure on 5th Avenue in New York City and with halls and halls of masterpieces from Egyptian Sarcophagi to Van Gogh portraits. But despite its honorable mission, the Met is implicated in a growing number of scandals, investigations, and criminal prosecutions surrounding its collection.

Last night, as glittering celebrities attended the annual Met Gala dressed in couture, the AC was spotlighting some of the contested objects that have been seized and repatriated from the collection of America’s largest art collection in looks vs. loot. While the Met Gala gives us an occasion for satire, we must continue to ask serious questions about museums.

The Antiquities Coalition has long called for “strong, concrete, and immediate action” from the Met, including other specific recommendations that the museum could take to regain public trust. This is even more critical given revelations from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that at least 1,109 pieces in the museum’s catalog have close ties to individuals indicted or convicted of antiquities crimes. 309 of these suspect artifacts remained on display.

The Antiquities Coalition, as leaders in the fight against cultural racketeering, again urges the Met to reevaluate its role in ending these crimes.

The Angkorian World: Major Volume about Southeast Asia’s Largest Ancient State Features Scholarship by AC’s Tess Davis

Angkor–the most powerful ancient state in Southeast Asia–persisted for more than six centuries and remains central to its Cambodian descendants. Its wealth of archaeology, culture, and economic history serves as a vital resource for individuals studying Asia.

On April 28, a new publication about Angkor will be published by editors Mitch Hendrickson, Miriam T. Stark, and Damian Evans. The Angkorian World dives into the historical and environmental contexts of Angkor, the anthropogenic landscapes of Angkor, Angkorian ideologies and realities, and political and aesthetic Angkorian legacies that explain why this great empire is valued by Cambodians today.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, joined researcher Eileen Lustig to author a chapter about Angkorian law and land. Their insights will assist students, researchers, academics, and others seeking to understand how the Angkorian Empire arose and functioned in the premodern world.

Learn more about the publication and secure your copy here.

AC’s Tess Davis Calls for Increased Transparency from the Met in ProPublica

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (the Met) is a globally-recognized institution, yet it is facing rising questions on its practices for acquiring and displaying art and antiquities with suspicious provenance, or none at all.

An investigation from ProPublica revealed that part of the museum’s extensive collection features cultural artifacts currently taken from Native American tribes. Two of these artifacts include wooden masks that had been taken from tribal lands almost 150 years ago. 

These pieces of history made their way to the Met from the Dikers, a couple known for having one of the country’s most significant collections of Native American objects. The provenance of these antiquities does not begin until 2003, when the Dikers purchased them from a collector and transferred ownership to the Met in 2017.

This isn’t the first time the Met has received antiquities with questionable ownership, and ProPublica reports that only 15% of the Met’s collection from the Dikers has a complete history.

Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, emphasized that while the Met is claiming to increase transparency, much more should be done to set the gold standard for national and international institutions. 

Davis was quoted as saying:

“[The Met] could set an example about the importance of combating illegal trade and the need to protect cultural heritage. But it seems they are doing the opposite.”

The Antiquities Coalition continues to call for the Met to increase transparency and outlines specific recommendations for how the Museum can regain public trust. 

Read the full investigation from ProPublica here.

AC Interviews Zoe Caselli on Return of Cambodian Heritage

Cambodia is home to a wealth of rich cultural history, but unrest led its heritage to be plundered by bad actors for their own gain. Infamous antiquities dealer Douglas Latchford was able to take advantage of Cambodia’s vulnerability during the Khmer Rouge rule and loot an untold number of significant masterpieces. Those objects ended up scattered across the globe, in some of the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections. 

Many found their way to the American and British art markets. Thankfully, experts in these countries have worked tirelessly alongside Cambodian partners to ensure these antiquities return to their rightful home.

One such expert, Zoe Caselli, is an interdisciplinary consultant and researcher in cultural heritage and international affairs. Recently, Caselli attended a ceremony welcoming some of these pieces back to the Kingdom. The Antiquities Coalition interviewed her about the high-level event and international efforts to combat cultural racketeering.

AC Leads Discussion on the Threat of Sanctions Evasions to U.S. Art Market

February 24, 2023, marks one year since Russian forces invaded Ukraine with a plan to “erase Ukraine, its history and its people,” including the country’s cultural heritage. Russia has worked toward its goal by destroying historical sites and looting Ukraine’s rich cultural history, ultimately playing a role in financing their reign of terror.

Despite the U.S. government’s efforts to isolate Russia and its economy, the American art market remains a blind spot for Russia’s crimes. As the American art market continues to be recognized as the largest unregulated market in the world, the U.S. government must do more to prevent financial crimes from impacting responsible dealers, collectors, and citizens.

On March 30, 2023, the Antiquities Coalition hosted a roundtable to discuss the vulnerabilities of the American art market and the importance of sanctions as a preventative measure against bad actors looking to exploit it. “Not a Pretty Picture: Threats Facing the Responsible Art Market, U.S. Economic Integrity, and National Security from Sanctions Evasions” featured government officials, law enforcement, academics, non-governmental organization leaders, and other experts to explore each sector’s role in closing loopholes and protecting the $30 billion market.

Attendees also focused on the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee of Investigations (PSI) report that pointed out many of these financial loopholes remain wide open to misuse. This 150 page report, compiled from dozens of interviews and millions of documents, detailed how a pair of Russian oligarchs had laundered at least $18 million through top auction houses and galleries, in full evasion of U.S. sanctions imposed in 2014 on Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. 

The Antiquities Coalition thanks all participants who shared their expertise during the roundtable and looks forward to seeing the U.S. government take further action to preserve and protect our nation’s cultural heritage.

AC’s Tess Davis Joins the G20 to Discuss Cultural Heritage Preservation

The Group of Twenty (G20) makes up at least 90% of the global art market, highlighting that its member states are uniquely positioned to lead the fight against cultural racketeering. Under the 2021 Italian Presidency, the G20 prioritized combating the illicit trade, hosting events for international leaders to discuss the issue and establishing a specific working group on culture. 

This focus has continued under this year’s President the Republic of India, and this year the Cultural Working Group is hosting four webinars to inform its recommendations for G20 countries to address the risks their markets face from transnational crimes via art and artifacts, including smuggling, money laundering, and terrorist financing.

On March 28, 2023, Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, spoke during the first thematic webinar on the Protection and Restitution of Cultural Property and delivered five recommendations for the G20 to combat looting and trafficking. 

  1. Continue to Recognize the Illicit Trade is a Serious Crime: Working towards the end goal of dismantling criminal networks through prosecutions and convictions is critical and sends the message that looting and trafficking are not white collar, victimless crimes.
  2. Foster a Whole of Government Approach: The Cultural Working Group could serve as a model for its Member States by taking a Whole-of-G20 approach, reinforcing the Working Groups on Trade, Investment, and Corruption as well as the Finance Track.
  3. Ensure Better Coordination with Member States: The Culture Working Group could encourage Member States to assign day-to-day responsibility for this issue to a senior staff person within their governments.
  4. Strengthen the Legal Framework: Better use of existing instruments such as the UNTOC, harmonization of national laws, and training for legislative drafters, attorneys, and judges, are all necessary steps.
  5. Committing to Continuing Action: An annual, high-level convening will sustain the momentum from India, Indonesia, and Italy’s Presidencies.

These recommendations are part of a larger report from the Antiquities Coalition’s G20 Task Force, Safeguarding Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones: A Roadmap for the G20 to Combat the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects.

During the working group’s first public program tackling the cultural racketeering crisis in 2021, Deborah Lehr, Chairman and Founder of the Antiquities Coalition, emphasized that the G20 must take collective action to end cultural racketeering.

Persistent loopholes in the global art market threaten governments and legitimate businesses by enabling corruption, money laundering, and terrorist financing. The Antiquities Coalition commends the G20 for prioritizing cultural property protection and looks forward to how it will tackle the illicit antiquities trade.