by Dr. Jeffrey A. Becker
Inverse-Face Beaker, 10th-11th century, Sicán (Lambayeque), Peru, gold, 20 x 18.1 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
What can I do to help preserve and protect cultural heritage?
When confronted with the latest news about the destruction of cultural heritage or the latest update about a trafficking case or a questionable auction, it is easy to feel helpless and to think that the task is insurmountable if the goal is to protect and preserve cultural heritage both for the present and for posterity. Armed with information, however, each individual can become a powerful advocate in promoting a safer environment for cultural heritage and cultural property.
In addition to staying informed through study, following this curriculum, for instance, there are other paths that one can take to make a difference where cultural heritage protection is concerned. One route is to uphold best practices when visiting sites and museums, endeavoring to leave heritage sites and museums in the best condition possible for the future. This includes not removing artifacts from sites or damaging any in situ remains or museum displays.
Another route is to refuse to participate in any activities related to illicit trafficking, including online resale sites and questionable art auctions. Yet another route is to become a vocal advocate, interfacing with both governmental and non-governmental agencies that work on the behalf of culture. One can also support some of these organizations through membership and participation in outreach programs offered by some groups.
The heritage of past cultures does have a future, but it falls to each of us to make sure it is a secure future.
Organizations and agencies that work to protect cultural heritage and advocate on behalf of cultural heritage issues:
U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield “The United States Committee of the Blue Shield was formed in 2006, in response to heritage catastrophes around the world … Blue Shield (International) and its affiliated national committees work together as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross, providing an emergency response to cultural property at risk from armed conflict and natural disasters.”
UNESCO World Heritage Centre “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.”
ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives “The ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives implements cultural property protection by: Documenting damage; Promoting global awareness; Planning emergency and post-war responses.”
Archaeological Institute of America “The AIA promotes archaeological inquiry and public understanding of the material record of the human past to foster an appreciation of diverse cultures and our shared humanity. The AIA supports archaeologists, their research and its dissemination, and the ethical practice of archaeology. The AIA educates people of all ages about the significance of archaeological discovery and advocates the preservation of the world’s archaeological heritage.”
Society for American Archaeology “The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is an international organization dedicated to the research, interpretation, and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas.“
SAFE (Saving Antiquities For Everyone) SAFE is a volunteer group devoted to raising awareness of the world’s endangered cultural heritage.
Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology (APAA) “APAA seeks to develop a broad awareness and appreciation for Afghanistan’s archaeological heritage, for the purpose of preserving cultural treasures to enhance national cultural identity as well as for the educational and financial benefit of current and future generations.”
United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational And Cultural Affairs — Cultural Heritage Center “The ancient and historic monuments, objects, and archaeological sites of the world enrich and inform today’s societies, and help connect us to our cultural origins. The Department’s Cultural Heritage Center specializes in the protection and preservation of these irreplaceable resources, working on many fronts to safeguard the patrimony of other countries”
Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC) “The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC) supports conservation education, research, and outreach activities that increase understanding of our global cultural heritage.”
Art Loss Register “The World’s Largest Database of Stolen Art”
Law Enforcement Agencies
Federal Bureau of Investigation Art Crime Team “Art and cultural property crime—which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines—is a looming criminal enterprise with estimated losses in the billions of dollars annually. To recover these precious pieces—and to bring these criminals to justice—the FBI has a dedicated Art Crime Team of 16 special agents, supported by DOJ trial attorneys for prosecutions. The Bureau also runs the National Stolen Art File, a computerized index of reported stolen art and cultural properties for the use of law enforcement agencies across the world.”
Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Italy) “The Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale – TPC) was instituted in 1969, one year prior to the UNESCO Paris Convention in 1970, whereby all UNESCO member States were invited to institute specific services with a view to protecting the cultural heritage of the individual nations.”
Sources for art crime, illegal antiquities trafficking, looting
ARCA – Association for Research into Crimes against Art http://www.artcrimeresearch.org/ and http://art-crime.blogspot.com/ “The Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) is a research and outreach organization which works to promote the study and research of art crime and cultural heritage protection. The Association seeks to identify emerging and under-examined trends related to the study of art crime and to develop strategies to advocate for the responsible stewardship of our collective artistic and archaeological heritage.”
International Council of Museums (ICOM) Red List “The Red Lists classify the endangered categories of archaeological objects or works of art in the most vulnerable areas of the world, in order to prevent them being sold or illegally exported.”
Looting Matters (David Gill) “Discussion of the archaeological ethics surrounding the collecting of antiquities and archaeological material.”
Trafficking Culture “Trafficking Culture is a research consortium that produces evidence-based research into the contemporary global trade in looted cultural objects.”
Curriculum materials for learning and teaching about heritage issues
Smarthistory ARCHES (at risk cultural heritage education series) “The At Risk Cultural Heritage Education Series (ARCHES) is a new Smarthistory learning resource for the study of at-risk cultural heritage, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.”