Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Technological innovation to detect illegal logging -- why not something similar for archaeological sites?

A physicist, engineer, and inventor, has come up with an ingenious new method of detecting illegal logging activity in the Amazon in real time using old cell phones. There are obviously some differences between archaeological sites and trees that make it impractical to simply do the exact same thing: for one thing, chain saws are a lot louder. And in war-torn areas it might be impossible (ISIS will kill you if they find you carrying a GPS-equipped phone, for instance).  But in general this is the sort of technological innovation that I have been argued for quite some time should be sought after in order to supplement/complement efforts to police archaeological sites. Establishing a prize for the development of some such monitoring technology would incentivize the search. There are plenty of possible funders of such a prize, ranging from wealthy collectors such as Shelby White, to dealers such as James Ede, to the owners of tourism agencies, to well-funded archaeological institutions such as the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. 

Monday, June 01, 2015

UNSCR 2199 (2015): How Useful is it?

Given the continued references to UNSCR 2199 as a strong international response to the cultural heritage bit of the disaster now unfolding in Syria and Iraq, it is worth noting that the resolution contains only three action items regarding heritage, and that the resolution's only concrete action is the following:
17. Reaffirms its decision in paragraph 7 of resolution 1483 (2003) and decides that all Member States shall take appropriate steps to prevent the trade in Iraqi and Syrian cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from Iraq since 6 August 1990 and from Syria since 15 March 2011, including by prohibiting cross-border trade in such items, thereby allowing for their eventual safe return to the Iraqi and Syrian people and calls upon the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Interpol, and other international organizations, as appropriate, to assist in the implementation of this paragraph.
In other words, nothing specific beyond what has already been affirmed. What the "appropriate steps" are is left to the imagination. Contrast the very specific steps described in the fifteen action items dealing with the oil trade, and the weakness of this resolution with regard to the trade in archaeological material becomes even clearer. 

I wrote a book about the failures of policy that led to the looting of the Iraq Museum and of Iraq's archaeological sites following the invasion of Iraq. The advent of ISIL poses a much more difficult problem, to be sure, than the American invasion did. And UNESCO, Interpol and other international organizations are doing their best to respond to the call with the very limited means at their disposal. But the lack of more robust policy measures in UNSCR 2199 is a failure that needs to be studied and learned from.