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We received the following (edited for clarity) last week from Dr. Mustafa Elhawat, Head of the Department of Classical Archaeology, University of Elmergheb, Al-khums in Libya. If any of our readers can assist Dr. Mustafa Elhawat please contact him at the email address below.

Dear The Heritage Trust

The political situation and the war in Libya has several complications. The problem lies in the risk to archaeological sites and buildings by militant Islamists, and exploration of these sites by thieves and vandals. There is also the illegal trade in stolen artefacts from some sites and cemeteries which are then sold on the internet and smuggled out of the country. Also, there are numerous monuments in Libya that need to be archived as they are not registered at present. There are two sections in Libya – East and West – but staff there are inexperienced and are in need of training.

We are doing as much as possible and are campaigning to raise awareness among the Libyan population. We are also setting up workshops and seminars but we need to acquire more skills, set up courses etc because archaeological sites in Libya are currently in crisis and at severe risk.

Cultural heritage in Libya belongs to all of humanity and the duty of everyone is to protect and preserve it. So we extend our hands to you, in the international community, to work with us together in order to preserve these treasures and this heritage. I hope there will be close cooperation between us all which will provide an appropriate solution to this crisis.

Cordial greetings

Dr. Mustafa Elhawat

Head of the Department of Classical Archaeology. Faculty of Archaeology and Tourism. (Near Leptis Magna). University of Elmergheb, Al-khums. Libya. Member of the Commission for the Conservation of Libyan Cultural Heritage. email

A cognocenti contemplating ye beauties of ye antique
Caricature of Sir William Hamilton (Scottish diplomat, volcanologist and collector of antiquities) by James Gillray (1756 – 1815)
The Trustees of the British Museum
The Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, Wiltshire, England will be hosting a lecture by James Ede, Chairman of Charles Ede Ltd, on Saturday, 5 March 2016 from 2:30pm. The talk, entitled Guardians of the Past or Looters? Connoisseurship, Collecting and the Trade in Antiquities, will fall into two parts. “The first deals with the revival of interest in the ancient world, the history of collecting (some of it scandalous) and the foundation of museums. The second part examines the importance of the trade and the challenges we face in the light of events in the Near East.”
Details here.
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Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, sign an agreement to pave the way for a heritage protection taskforce
Image Credit Domenico Stinellis/AP
The Guardian newspaper reports yesterday that –
Italy is to work with the UN’s cultural agency to protect ancient artefacts and archaeological sites in conflict areas from extremists. The Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and Unesco’s director general, Irina Bokova, signed an accord in Rome creating an Italian taskforce and a centre in Turin to train heritage protection experts.
Last year, activists reported that [Daesh] killed three captives in Palmyra, Syria, by blowing them up after tying them to ancient Roman columns. It also destroyed other monuments in Palmyra, a desert oasis standing at the crossroads of ancient civilisations, including the temple of Bel, temple of Baalshamin and the triumphal arch.
“We are witnessing a tragedy of destruction of heritage, systematic and deliberate attacks on culture,” Bokova said at the signing ceremony…
Full article here.
Archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, 82, was interrogated by so-called ‘Islamic State’ thugs for a month before he was beheaded yesterday in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra
He’s shown here, in 2002, in front of a rare first century sarcophagus from Palmyra depicting two priests
Image credit Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Kareem Shaheen in Beirut and Ian Black in London Report for The Guardian
The brutal murder of Khaled al-Asaad, 82, is the latest atrocity perpetrated by the jihadi group, which has captured a third of Syria and neighbouring Iraq and declared a “caliphate” on the territory it controls. It has also highlighted Isis’s habit of looting and selling antiquities to fund its activities – as well as destroying them.
More here. See also our earlier feature on Palmyra here.

Two 15th century painted panels in Holy Trinity Church, Torbryan, Devon, England before the theft. The two figures on the right, in the left panel, went missing.
Photo credit: The Churches Conservation Trust

Nearly two years ago we reported on the theft of two priceless 15th century painted oak panels from a church in Devon, England (feature here). The panels are said to be of national importance but had been viciously hacked out of a screen in the church and stolen. The panels were feared lost forever but now, thanks to a collector who recognised them from media coverage and who reported their illegal online sale to the police, the panels have been recovered and are currently in safe storage in Bristol.

Sadly, the damage done to the panels when they were hacked from the screen will cost in the region of £7,000 to repair and conserve. The Churches Conservation Trust therefore has launched and appeal to help restore this priceless masterpiece. Details here.


The Temple of Bel at the Palmyra World Heritage Site in Syria
Image credit Bassem Jarkas. Source Wikimedia Commons
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today expressed deep concern over fighting near the Syrian archaeological site of Palmyra that is endangering the nearby population and posing an imminent threat to the iconic ruins, calling out to all parties “to make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
“The site has already suffered four years of conflict, it suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and for the world,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said.
“I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
According to several sources, armed extremist groups raided the city of Tadmur, home to the archaeological site of Palmyra. Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, it is considered one of the most important cultural sites in the Middle East.
An oasis in the Syrian desert, northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
More here. See also the article in yesterday’s Guardian here.
Should the International Community stand by and let the destruction of this World Heritage Site take place. The Heritage Trust appeals to people everywhere to voice their concerns and to stop this tragedy from happening.

Heritage is identity, don’t steal it! A UNESCO video

Dear tourist, make sure that the souvenir you take home from South East Asia [or from any other part of the world] hasn’t been looted from a museum or illegally excavated from an archeological site. Please check its provenance and verify that it can be exported out of the country! Keep in mind that a cultural object is not simple merchandise: it embodies history and has a symbolic value for the local people. Help stop illicit trafficking!



Heritage Crime: Progress, Prospects and Prevention

Heritage crime is an area of growing interest for scholars, but also for enforcement agencies and heritage managers, as well as the communities affected. Whether it is the looting of cultural objects, theft of lead from churches, or vandalism of historic monuments, this timely collection brings together debate and international examples to demonstrate the diversity but also commonality of heritage crime across the globe.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Mark Harrison FSA, National Policing and Crime Advisor, English Heritage and Honorary Research Fellow, University of Kent, Great Britain.

1. Introduction; Suzie Thomas and Louise Grove

Section I: Heritage Crime around the World
2. South African Perspective on Thefts from Museums and Galleries: 2006-2010; Bernadine Benson and Henri Fouché
3. Archaeological Heritage in Peru: Definitions, Perceptions and Imperceptions; Henry Tantaleán
4. Forestry as Heritage Crime: Finland; Vesa Laulumaa
5. Archaeological Heritage Crimes in Romania and Moldova: A Comparative view; Sergiu Musteata
6. Threats to Cultural Heritage in the Cyprus Conflict; Sam Hardy

Section II: Tackling Heritage Crime
7. A Situational Approach to Heritage Crime Prevention; Louise Grove and Ken Pease
8. Understanding and Preventing Lead Theft from Churches: A Script Analysis; Victoria Price, Aiden Sidebottom and Nick Tilley
9. Understanding and Attitudes – Heritage Crime in Norway; Brian Kristian Wennberg
10. Developing Policy on Heritage Crime in Southern Africa; Helene Vollgraaff
11. Improving the Treatment of Heritage Crime in Criminal Proceedings: Towards a Better Understanding of the Impact of Heritage Offences; Carolyn Shelbourn
12. The Global Trade in Illicit Antiquities: Some New Directions?; Kenneth Polk
13. Conclusion; What’s the Future for Heritage Crime Research?; Suzie Thomas and Louise Grove

Published this month by Palgrave Macmillan. Details here.



We highlighted this issue earlier in the year here and here. On the Letters’ page of today’s Telegraph the issue is raised yet again. The time to ratify the convention is now long overdue and should be done without further delay. The letter, and the signatories to it, are as follows –
SIR – In 1954, the international community agreed the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, following the devastating impact of the Second World War on some of Europe’s most valued heritage, including paintings by Van Gogh and Caravaggio; the St Petersburg amber room; and architecture such as St Mary’s Church, Lübeck, and the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino.
After the looting in 2003 of museums and archaeological sites in Iraq, Britain announced its intention to ratify the convention. A decade later, we have yet to honour this commitment.
Britain is the most significant worldwide military power not to have ratified the convention, the United States having done so in 2009.
In 2008 a draft Cultural Property Protection (Armed Conflict) Bill passed through parliamentary scrutiny with only minor revisions suggested. Ministers of successive governments have pledged their commitment to ratification as soon as parliamentary time can be found.
This commitment is to be applauded, but continuing failure to ratify is mystifying. It has all-party support. Protecting cultural property in conflict is seen by the Armed Forces as a “force multiplier” – something that makes their job easier.
The latest Queen’s Speech left ample parliamentary time free to pass additional legislation in the current session. So the Government should delay no further in introducing the necessary legislation to ratify this important treaty.
Earl of Clancarty
London SW1
Professor Peter Stone
Secretary General of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield; Head of the School of Arts and Cultures, Newcastle University
Sir Laurie Magnus
Chairman English Heritage
Sir Simon Jenkins
Chairman National Trust
Lucy Worsley
Chief curator Historic Royal Palaces
Michael Palin
David Anderson
President, Museums Association; Director General, National Museums Wales
Dan Snow
President, Council for British Archaeology
Amanda Foreman
Dame Rosemary Cramp
Professor Emeritus, Durham University
Sir Adam Roberts
Senior Research Fellow in International Relations, Oxford University
Dame Fiona Reynolds
Master, Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
Chairman, all-party parliamentary archaeology group
Lady Antonia Fraser
Sir Barry Cunliffe
Loyd Grossman
Chairman, Heritage Alliance
Sir Tony Robinson
David Starkey
Bettany Hughes
Baroness Andrews
Lord Stern of Brentford
President, British Academy
Lord Cormack
Peter Hinton
Chief Executive, Institute for Archaeologists
Dame Margaret Drabble
Sue Cole
International Council on Monuments and Sites UK
Lord Howarth
Gillian Slovo
Baroness Bonham-Carter
Professor Stephen Shennan
Director of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London
Lord Maclennan of Rogart
Dr Neil Curtis
Convenor of University Museums in Scotland
Nick Poole
Chief Executive Officer Collections Trust
Baroness Young of Hornsey
Professor Mike Robinson
Director, Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage
Dr Eleanor Robson
Chairman, British Institute for the Study of Iraq
Sir Bob Russell MP
Dr Mike Heyworth
Director, Council for British Archaeology
Kamila Shamsie
Lord Roper
Professor Andrew Wilson
Head of the School of Archaeology, University of Oxford
Glenda Jackson MP
Iain Watson
Director Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
Susan Ronald
Peter Trowles
Mackintosh Curator, Archives and Collections Centre, Glasgow School of Art
Lord Collins of Highbury
David Mander
Chairman, Archives and Records Association
Professor Nicholas Thomas
Director, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge
Baroness Butler-Sloss
Dr Jonathan Tubb
Keeper at the Middle East Department, British Museum
Dr Robin Skeates
Director, Museum and Artefact Studies, Durham University
Professor Niall Sharples
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Cardiff
Dr John Schofield
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of York
Lord Colville
Peter Ride
Research Fellow in Visual Culture, University of Westminster
Dr Joshua Pollard
Head of Archaeology, University of Southampton
John McDonnell MP
Dr Dominic Perring
Director Centre of Applied Archaeology, University College, London
Dr Mark Pearce
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Nottingham
Dr Alan Outram
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter
Lord Redesdale
Dr Nick Merriman
Director, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester
Dr Antoinette McKane
Programme leader, Museum and Heritage Studies, Liverpool Hope University
Dr Sam McGuiness
Head of School of Education, University of Ulster
Professor Tom Jackson
Director of Centre for Information Management, Loughborough University
Professor Audrey Horning
Head of School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, University of Belfast
Professor Carl Heron
Head of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
Professor Roberta Gilchrist
Head of School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading
Professor Chris Gerrard
Head of Department of Archaeology, Durham University
Dr Allen Foster
Head of Department of Information Studies, University of Wales
Dr Andrew Flinn
Director, International Centre for Archives and Records Management Research, University College, London
Professor Keith Dobney
Head of Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen
Professor Tim Darvill
Director, Centre for Archaeology, University of Bournemouth
Dr Vicki Cummings
Reader in Archaeology, School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences, University of Central Lancashire
Professor Jim Crow
Head of Archaeology, University of Edinburgh
Dr Gillian Carr
Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Professor Stuart Campbell
Head of School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester
Dr Alexandrina Buchanan
Chair of the Forum for Archives and Records Management in Education and Research; Co-director, Centre for Archive Studies, University of Liverpool
Dr Andrew Bracey
Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, University of Lincoln
Professor Graeme Barker
Director McDonald Institute for Archaeology, Cambridge University
Professor Douglas Baird
Head of Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool
Dr Ian Anderson
Coordinator of Museum Studies, University of Glasgow
Adrian Sanders MP
Mike Williams
Secretary of the Nautical Archaeology Society
Hafed Walda
Archaeologist, King’s College London
Dr Lutgarde Vandeput
Director, British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara
Bijan Rouhani
Vice-president, International Scientific Committee on Risk Preparedness
Julian Radcliffe
Chairman, Art Loss Register
Dr Nigel Pollard
Swansea University
Jan Picton
Secretary of the British Association of Near Eastern Archaeologists
Suzanna Pembroke
Fiona Macalister
John Lewis
General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of the Society of Antiquaries of London
David Lakin
Paul Fox
University of York and University College London
Peter Clayton
Hugo Clarke
UK National Committee of the Blue Shield
Dr Neil Brodie
Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, University of Glasgow
Dr Suzanne Macleod
Bamboo strips dating from circa 305bce. When correctly aligned the strips reveal a table for multiplying numbers up to 99.5
Image credit: Research and Conservation Centre for Excavated Text, Tsinghua University, Beijing
The sources of our knowledge lie in what is written on bamboo and silk, what is engraved on metal and stone, and what is cut on vessels to be handed down to posterity
Mo Tsu (墨子) Chinese philosopher (470-391bce)
Nature reports that –
Five years ago, Tsinghua University in Beijing received a donation of nearly 2,500 bamboo strips. Muddy, smelly and teeming with mould, the strips probably originated from the illegal excavation of a tomb, and the donor had purchased them at a Hong Kong market. Researchers at Tsinghua carbon-dated the materials to around 305 bc, during the Warring States period before the unification of China.
Each strip was about 7 to 12 millimetres wide and up to half a metre long, and had a vertical line of ancient Chinese calligraphy painted on it in black ink. Historians realized that the bamboo pieces constituted 65 ancient texts and recognized them to be among the most important artefacts from the period. “The strips were all mixed up because the strings that used to tie each manuscript together to form a scroll had long decayed,” says Li Junming, a historian and palaeographer at Tsinghua. Some pieces were broken, others missing, he adds: to decipher the texts was “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle”. But “21 bamboo strips stand out from the rest as they contain only numbers, written in the style of ancient Chinese”, says Feng Lisheng, a historian of mathematics at Tsinghua. Those 21 strips turned out to be a multiplication table, Feng and his colleagues announced in Beijing today during the presentation of the fourth volume of annotated transcriptions of the Tsinghua collection. When the strips are arranged properly, says Feng, a matrix structure emerges. The top row and the rightmost column contain, arranged from right to left and from top to bottom respectively, the same 19 numbers: 0.5; the integers from 1 to 9; and multiples of 10 from 10 to 90.
“Such an elaborate multiplication matrix is absolutely unique in Chinese history,” says Feng. The oldest previously known Chinese times tables, dating to the Qin Dynasty between 221 and 206 bc, were in the form of a series of short sentences such as “six eights beget forty-eight” and capable of only much simpler multiplications. The ancient Babylonians possessed multiplication tables some 4,000 years ago, but theirs were in a base-60, rather than base-10 (decimal), system. The earliest-known European multiplication table dates back to the Renaissance.
Full article here. Chinese writing developed from characters written on bamboo strips using a brush loaded with a carbon-based ink. Chinese texts are still written vertically and read from top to bottom today. For further reading see Written on Bamboo and Silk by Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien. The University of Chicago Press, 1962.
A scholar carrying a bundle of bamboo strips. Reproduced from a tomb tile dating from 300bce and now in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

Video credit Al Jazeera English

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey reports this month that –

An auction house in the US state of New York has agreed to return an ancient statue that was looted from a remote Cambodian temple in the 1970’s. The statue is among seven missing statues that have been traced to the United States. Cambodia says it wants all of the statues back to be displayed together at the country’s national museum.

Source Al Jazeera English.


Sajid Javid, the new British Conservative secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Anny Shaw, writing for The Arts Newspaper, reports that –
Cultural and political figures are calling on the British government to sign up to the Hague Convention, which provides protection for a country’s heritage in times of conflict. Writing in the Guardian newspaper on 15 April, Helen Goodman, the Labour MP and shadow culture minister, says there is “no excuse” for Sajid Javid, the new Conservative secretary of state for culture, media and sport, to not ratify the treaty.
“The convention prohibits looting, theft, vandalism and reprisals against cultural property,” Goodman writes. “Importantly, it also forbids the export of cultural property from occupied territories and makes provision for the return of objects deposited with third-party territories for safekeeping during conflict.” Goodman points out that the UK is “one of the only Western powers not to have ratified the convention”. Goodman’s comments echo similar advice given by The Art Newspaper’s editor Jane Morris in a prompt from the BBC. “We really ought to [ratify] the Hague Convention,” she told the news service last week. “It’s something the DCMS [Department of Culture, Media and Sport] could take a lead on, in tandem with the Foreign Office.
Let’s hope so. Rupert Christiansen, writing in The Telegraph pulls no punches when he says –
You [Sajid Javid] appear to be very much a money man, with a background in banking, and there is nothing – forgive me if I am mistaken – in your curriculum vitae to suggest that you have any prior interest in or knowledge of the bulging arts folder in your ministerial brief.
I don’t imagine you much relish grappling with its contents. The arts are a running sore and constant irritant for every government. Your predecessors have generally been excoriated and mocked by the chattering classes and liberal media for their failure to understand or value their mysteries, and you will already have been warned to expect heckling and rotten tomatoes when the next round of Arts Council grants are announced in the summer.
You will also have to confront some of the most forcefully intelligent, sharply articulate and widely respected people in contemporary public life – Sir Nicholas Serota of Tate, Sir Neil McGregor of the British Museum, Sir Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre, for instance – and I would advise you not to under-estimate them, not least as they command much more instinctive sympathy from the press than you will ever do.
The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was signed 60 years ago next month (14 May 1954). With the exception Andorra, Ireland, Philippines and the UK every other country has ratified the convention.
The Arts Newspaper feature here. The Telegraph article here.

The excavation of Carchemish (1912-13) with Leonard Woolley (right) and T E Lawrence (left)

In an impassioned piece of writing for The Wall Street Journal, Bonnie Burnham, President of the World Monuments Fund, says –

This winter, the film “Monuments Men” told the story of how, over two years, with virtually no resources or support, a ragtag division of 345 volunteers from 17 countries working under the aegis of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) program rescued six million stolen artworks from Nazi depots, including some of the world’s most esteemed masterpieces, and saved hundreds of historic buildings, objects and archival collections from destruction in Europe and Asia.

Yet there has been no sequel to the work of the Monuments Men. Time and again, major cultural treasures have been destroyed, museums looted and archaeological sites despoiled during conflicts. Even after civil law was re-established in Afghanistan, Egypt and Iraq, the destruction has continued under the noses of authorities. In Syria, cellphones have captured the obliteration of the historic center of Aleppo. The director general of antiquities in Syria reports that 420 monumental sites have been damaged in the two years since the civil war began, many in the cities of Aleppo and Homs. The costs of reconstruction would run to the hundreds of millions of dollars and require highly specialized technical capabilities. Also troubling is the widespread looting that has occurred in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Yemen during the past decade. Estimates of antiquities looting and theft in Egypt and Syria since 2011 run into the billions of dollars; but sadly, we’ll never know its full extent.

Cultural heritage links us to our history and identity through structures, objects and traditions. It gives places meaning through references to the past. It enriches our quality of life, contributes to a community’s economic well-being and is fundamental to a healthy society. People in places under siege are no less concerned about their heritage than those who watch from the outside. But people caught in these circumstances are often powerless to intervene, which is why we need a dedicated effort on their behalf.

This article is well worth reading in full. See also our earlier feature here.


The ancient site of Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey
Video the Global Heritage Fund

The Global Heritage Fund reports that –

Göbekli Tepe is an Early Neolithic site of enormous significance, featuring 5-meter-high monolithic pillars carved in relief and dating to 10,000 or more years ago. Erected within circular “temple” structures, the latest excavations have revealed that these structures likely covered the entire hillside and could number as many as 20 in total. Göbekli Tepe has been interpreted as the oldest human-made place of worship yet discovered. Until excavations began, a complex on this scale was not thought possible for a community so ancient. The massive sequence of stratification layers suggests several millennia of activity, perhaps reaching back to the Mesolithic. The oldest occupation layer (stratum III) contains monolithic pillars linked by coarsely built walls to form circular or oval structures. So far, four such buildings, with diameters between 10 and 30m have been uncovered. Geophysical surveys indicate the existence of 16 additional structures.

However, the site and its extant remains are threatened by looting, exposure and insufficient management of the site and its resources. GHF’s goals at Göbekli Tepe are to support the preparation of a comprehensive Site Management and Conservation Plan, construction of a shelter over the exposed archaeological features, training local community members in guiding and conservation and aiding Turkish authorities in securing World Heritage Site inscription.

More here and here (PDF).

A gold bead found at Rendlesham, Suffolk. The bead measures approx. 1cm in length
BBC News Suffolk reports on the possible discovery of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of the kings of East Anglia –
A village at Rendlesham in Suffolk, which would have included a royal hall, was mentioned by the historian the Venerable Bede in the 8th Century. Suffolk’s county archaeologists have been studying a 120-acre (50 hectare) area about 5 miles (8km) from the Sutton Hoo burial site.
An exhibition of some of the coins and jewellery opens at the Sutton Hoo Visitor Centre near Woodbridge today, 15 March, and runs until 31 October 2014.
Full article and video here. See also the report on the partial looting of the site here.



June 2022
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