To protect what you have, you first must know what you have. Inventories, registries, and other databases are thus a crucial tool for safeguarding both cultural objects and sites. Institutions, countries, and regions must prioritize creating these resources, keep them up-to-date, and ensure consistency across both software platforms and national borders.

The Antiquities Coalition and American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) and working with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities to secure the nation’s ancient legacy by documenting the complete holdings of its museums in a digital registry. In collaboration with international partners, they will design and implement a museum registrar training program for Ministry staff to bring state-of-the-art best practices to a new generation of Egyptians. The project is the foundational step toward a comprehensive system of increased security, staff capacity building, and technological innovations to document the vast antiquities collections of multiple museums.

We’ve created this resource to illustrate why this and similar projects are so important. Scroll down to learn more about cultural property databases, including best practices from international and intergovernmental organizations,  notable success stories, professional and scholarly articles, news reports, and more on these important tools.

Recognizing the Importance of Inventories, Registries, and Other Databases

Inventory and Documentation – Examples and Success Stories

Egypt – August 2013

Following the ouster of Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, and the ensuing turmoil that followed, the Malawi National Museum in Minya, Egypt, was attacked, looted, and set ablaze by Islamic Extremists. OF the 1,089 objects recorded in the Museum’s inventory, 589 of the pieces were recovered. According to UNESCO, the existing inventory of the materials recorded is what led to their recovery. According to UNESCO, the Malawi National Museum Inventory “enabled UNESCO and its partners, including INTERPOL, to give visibility to the list of stolen objects, and made it easier to monitor the circulation of the looted objects in order to recover as many as possible.”
UNESCO Warning: Looting of the Malawi National Museum in the Upper Egypt city of Minya

Iraq – 2009-Present

In an effort to combat the ISIL campaign of destruction of Christian heritage, Iraqi Dominican Christians have been digitizing 14th to 19th century historic Christian manuscripts. Supported by the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML) in Collegeville, Minnesota and led by Dominican Father Najeeb Michaeel – Father Michaeel and his group persuade local ancient manuscript owners, monasteries and churches to let him borrow their precious items for cleaning and digitization. After which, the restored original manuscripts are returned to the owner along with a digitized copy. Additionally, a digital copy is sent to specialized archives for continued preservation.

Success of these digitization efforts has already proven valuable: Father Michaeel had already digitized the collections in the Mar Behnam Syriac Catholic Monastery, as of October 2014 the Monastery sat behind the front lines of the destructive militant groups and rumored to have been destroyed or burned down. Since the project began, Father Michaeel and his restoration team of 6-8 people have made digital copies of 5,000 manuscripts with the ongoing support of the HMML.

Uganda – 2014

Earlier in 2014, a massive fire in Uganda led to the of the royal Kasubi tombs. The fire destroyed four tombs of Kings of Buganda. Luckily, CyArk – whose mission is to make and collect detailed digital records of the world’s cultural heritage sites – documented and scanned this site a year earlier. CyArk was contacted by a Bugandan Prince to start a rebuilding of the site.
CyArk has identified 800 at risk sites and has scanned 38 so far (all available at www.cyark.org)

Professional Publications and Scholarly Works 

UNESCO The Fight Against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Objects the 1970 Convention: Past and Future
UNESCO Convention for the Fight Against Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property
March 15-16, 2011

ICOMDocumenting the Cultural Heritage
Edited by Robin Thornes and John Bold
Getty Information Institute, 1998

Getty Conservation InstituteCultural Property at War: Protecting Heritage during Armed Conflict
By Corine Wegener and Marjan Otter of Blue Shield

UNESCOLegal and Practical Measures Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property – UNESCO Handbook
By International Standards Section, Division of Cultural Heritage, Paris, UNESCO, 2006

ICCROM and UNESCOA Guide for Documentation Work for Museums in Developing Countries
By ICCROM and UNESCO Partnership for the Preventive Conservation of Endangered Museum Collections in Developing Countries, created March 2009, updated April 2011

As Assessment of Institutional Repositories in the Arab World
Scott Carlson, D-Lib Magazine; May/June 2015

Handling the “Curation Crisis”: Database Management for Archaeological Collections
Karen L. Thompson, Ph.D. Thesis; Spring 2014

Beyond Cataloguing Losses: The Iraq Museum Database Project at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
Clemens Reichel; January 4, 2011

Through the Fog of War in Iraq: Lessons Learned in Heritage Preservation
Ann Hitchcock, 2003

IFLASpecial Issue on Cultural Heritage
Journal of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
Volume 41, Number 3, October 2015

Changing the Heritage Inventory Paradigm: The Arches Open Source System
David Myers, Yiannis Avramides, and Alison Dalgity
Conservation Perspectives: The GCI Newsletter, Fall 2013: 4-9

News and Media Reports

Iraq Harnesses Technology to Protect Ancient Treasures
CNN
July 21, 2011

The Secret Race to Save Timbuktu’s Manuscripts
The Globe and Mail
December 27, 2012

The Smuggled Hard Drives of Timbuktu When Rebels Invaded, a Digital-Archive Project Suddenly became a Cultural Lifeline
Boston Globe
February 17, 2013

Digitization as Preservation: Fleeing Mali Rebels Torch Historic Library in Timbuktu
UVA Digital Curation Services
February 27, 2013

Hill Museum & Manuscript Library Returns to Mali to Digitize Manuscripts from Timbuktu Library
HMML
December 23, 2013

Tradition or Tourist Spectacle? Safeguarding Hong Kong’s Culture Comes at a Price
South China Morning Post
September 8, 2014

Engaging Your Community Through Cultural Heritage Digital Libraries
Library Professional Development
September 11, 2014

Backing Up History: With Portable 3-D Laser Scanners, Preservationists are Making Digital Records of the World’s Most Vulnerable Landmarks
National Geographic

Hill Museum & Manuscript Library’s Malta Study Center Begins New Digitization Project at the National Archives of Malta
HMML
September 23, 2014

Protecting Ancient Treasures from becoming Casualties in Iraq and Syria
PBS
September 24, 2014

Ministry of Culture ASI Launch a Digital Repository for Indian Museums
MediaNam
October 24, 2014

Documenting Iraqi Kurdistan’s Heritage during a Time of Conflict
World Monuments Fund
September 2015

Looted Egyptian Figurine Arrives from France
Cairo Post
October 2, 2015

Inventories are also recognized as a vital weapon in the fight against the illicit trade in cultural objects.
— ICOM, Documenting the Cultural Heritage
The warehouses at archaeological sites have objects they know are not listed or catalogued yet, and they think it could be easier to sell them.
–Dr. Assaad Seif, Directorate General of Antiquities, Beirut
The main characteristic of the endangered heritage lies in the lack of identification and inventory. The traceability of this property is therefore an essential element in preventing illegal trafficking.
–European Commission, Study on Preventing and Fighting Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Goods in the European Union
Losing an archaeological object physically remains a tragedy, but if no records of it exist anywhere, it truly loses its significance and meaning for the world of archaeology.
–Clemens Reichel, Beyond Cataloguing Losses: The Iraq Museum Database Project at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

All footage was filmed at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo, Egypt