Remember Babylon?

From CNN:

Babylon was one of the glories of the ancient world, its walls and mythic hanging gardens listed among the Seven Wonders.

Founded about 4,000 years ago, the ancient city was the capital of 10 dynasties in Mesopotamia, considered one of the earliest cradles of civilization and the birthplace of writing and literature.

But following years of plunder, neglect and conflict, the Babylon of today scarcely conjures that illustrious history.

In recent years, the Iraqi authorities have reopened Babylon to tourists, hoping that one day the site will draw visitors from all over the globe. But despite the site’s remarkable archaeological value and impressive views, it is drawing only a smattering of tourists, drawn by a curious mix of ancient and more recent history.

The city — just 85km (52 miles) south of Baghdad, about a two hour drive, dependent on checkpoints — still bears the marks of ham-fisted attempts at restoration by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and a subsequent occupation by U.S. forces in 2003.

“They occupied Babylon. They wouldn’t let anyone in,” says Hussein Saheb, a guard at the historical sites at Babylon, recalling the day U.S. tanks rolled into view, before forces set up camp.

Following excavations in the early 20th century, European archaeologists claimed key features such as the remains of the famous Ishtar Gate — the glazed brick gate decorated with images of dragons and aurochs, built in about 575 BC by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II as the eighth gate to the inner city.

The original now stands as part of a reconstruction of the gate in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum, whereas in Babylon itself, visitors enter through a replica. Yet remnants of Babylon’s former glory remain, with sections of the city’s walls still intact.

Later excavations and conservation work carried out under Saddam’s rule greatly despoiled the site, say archaeologists.

Iraqi archaeologist Hai Katth Moussa said that during a massive reconstruction project in the early 1980s, Saddam began building a replica of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II on top of the ruins of the ancient palace.

Like Nebuchadnezzar, he wrote his name on many of the bricks, with inscriptions such as: “This was built by Saddam, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq.”

After the Gulf War, Saddam began building a modern palace for himself on top of ruins in the style of a Sumerian ziggurat.

When U.S. forces arrived in 2003, they occupied the palace, which lies adjacent to Nebuchadnezzar’s palace and overlooks the Euphrates River, and left their own mark. Today, a basketball hoop remains in Babylon, while concertina wire left behind by the military is used to prevent visitors from climbing over a 2,500-year-old lion statue — an ancient symbol of the city.

Even in the new Iraq, Babylon faces ongoing threats. Only 2% of the ancient city has been excavated, but those buried historical treasures are threatened by encroaching development.

Tour guide Hussein Al-Ammari says an oil pipeline runs through the eastern part of the ancient city. “It goes through the outer wall of Babylon,” he says.

Yet despite the shortcomings in its preservation, Babylon holds a draw for small numbers of Iraqi visitors — even if only to enter Saddam’s marble-lined palaces, still a novelty 10 years after the dictator’s downfall.

Zained Mohammed, visiting with her family for the first time from Karbala, told CNN: “We were just looking for a change of atmosphere, to have the kids see something different.”

Babylon is certainly that.

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Claustra Alpium Iuliarum

Mario ZACCARIA

Claustra Alpium Iuliarum: a Research Plan

Abstract

After the golden age of the Roman Empire, from Augustus to Marcus Aurelius, known as the Pax Augusta, a time of insecurity starts, in which the Empire must be defended on all fronts. There are frequent barbarian raids on the territory of Illyricum and Italy, and defensive measures are being taken. One of these is Claustra Alpium Iuliarum, a system of defensive walls (barriers), forts and towers in the current Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Croatia, designed as early as the time of the emperor Gallienus. It lasted until the emperor Theodosius 400 A.D. Claustra ought to be systematically researched with new technologies available (LiDAR, GIS and georadar), archaeological excavation should be performed, and Claustra should be presented to scientific and general audience and included in the List of UNESCO World Heritage.

Article available for free download here.

Published in HAEMUS Journal Vol.1. (2012)

Most important invasion routes from the east towards Italy via present day Slovenia

Turkey waging ‘art war’ to repatriate artifacts from foreign museums

From Spiegel:

If one were to describe the current mood in Turkey in one word, it would be pride. Once decried as the “sick man of the Bosporus,” the nation has regrouped and emerged as a powerhouse. Turkey’s political importance is growing, and its economy is booming.

In cultural matters, however, Turkey remains a lightweight. To right this deficiency, the government plans to build a 25,000-square-meter (270,000-square-foot) “Museum of the Civilizations” in the capital. “Ankara will proudly accommodate the museum,” boasts Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertugrul Günay. “Our dream is the biggest museum in the world

And why should Turkey be modest? Isn’t Anatolia home to the most magnificent ruins in the entire world? Even so, it must be noted that the Turks themselves can claim little credit for their archeological treasures. Their ancestors, the Seljuks, only arrived from the steppes of Central Asia in the 11th century. Christian Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, fell in 1453.

Before then, however, Hittites, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines had built enormous palaces, monasteries and amphitheaters in the region. Whether it was Homer, Thales or King Midas — they all lived on the other side of the Dardanelles.

When the new Muslim masters took over, the region’s illustrious past faded into obscurity. The water-pipe-smoking caliphs were more concerned with pursuing their own interests.

But things are different in modern Turkey, and the country is embracing its heritage. A powerful antiquities bureaucracy has grown up in recent years. Throughout the country, Turkish archeologists are excavating Stone Age sanctuaries, Greek theaters and ancient churches.

Robbed of Its Treasures

Turkey envisions the giant new museum in Ankara as the crown jewel in its effort to embrace a multicultural past. Contracts for the project have already been signed, and organizers hope to open the new museum in 2023 so as to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

The assertive and ambitious plan has caused a stir in Europe and the United States since Turkish officials also intend to fill their new display cases with treasures that they don’t even own (yet), artifacts that were smuggled out of the country long ago.

Turkey, more than other countries, has lost many of its ancient treasures to thieves and blackmarketeers. Although the Ottoman Empire imposed a ban on the exportation of antiquities in 1906, a well-organized local mafia has continued to wreak havoc in Turkey.

For example, in the early 1960s, among the remains of the ancient city of Boubon in southwestern Turkey, thieves discovered a Roman temple filled with more than 30 life-size bronze imperial statues. It would have been a global sensation — but the public never saw the statues. Instead, unbeknownst to the authorities, they all vanished into the voracious pipelines of the global antiquities trade.

Demands and Rejections

Now Turkey is striking back. It wants these wrongs to be righted. An investigative committee in Ankara was recently reinforced with legal experts to wage what has been dubbed an “art war.” The country has set itself “on a collision course with many of the world’s leading museums,” writes the British trade publication The Art Newspaper.

Berlin’s Pergamon Museum has already felt the brunt of Turkey’s new toughness. Last year, the museum returned a stone sphinx to Turkey. Almost 100 years ago, the figure arrived in pieces in Berlin, where it was painstakingly restored.

As if that weren’t enough, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which administers Berlin’s state museums, now admits that it has also received other demands.

For instance, Turkey is demanding the return of a more than 2,000-year-old marble torso (“Old Fisherman from Aphrodisias”) from the antiquities collection. It also wants the Museum of Islamic Art to return the ornamental structure of a Medieval tomb, as well as a prayer niche from Konya, a city in central Anatolia, that adorned a 13th-century mosque.

No one is willing to comment on the exact status of the negotiations. Or, rather, all they will say is that the objects in question have been in Berlin for more than a century. For now, at least, repatriation has been rejected.

According to a brief statement, Theodor Wiegand, who would later become the museum’s director, bought the statue of the fisherman from an art dealer in Izmir in 1904. Demanding the return of such objects, says one insider, is “absurd.”

American Museums in the Crosshairs

The conflict is bound to become heated given the Turks’ brusque and unrelenting behavior. “We don’t want a dispute,” says Culture Minister Günay. Nevertheless, he is threatening to impose a ban on loaning items to German museums and to expel foreign excavation teams if his request is ignored.

American museums are in a particularly tough position. Their curators have been relatively cavalier about acquiring works from shady dealers without digging too deeply into the antiquities’ provenance. Now it’s time to atone for those sins:

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is being asked to surrender 10 of its most beautiful artifacts.

The Washington-based museum of Dumbarton Oaks, a research institute owned by Harvard University, fears for its precious Sion Treasure of 6th-century Byzantine liturgical silverware.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has 22 disputed objects, including “The Stargazer,” a 5,000-year-old Cycladic marble figurine once owned by Nelson Rockefeller, as well as one of the oldest statues of Jesus Christ, which depicts him as a “good shepherd.”

Victories and Ongoing Battles

The campaign is getting a boost from support at the highest level. When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the United States last year, he returned home with the “Weary Hercules” in his luggage. Under great pressure, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts had decided to return the 1,900-year-old marble statue.

Nothing is known about the details of the deal. All the museums have been tightlipped about the deal, which was negotiated behind closed doors.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York initially denied that it was even affected. It was only a blog called “Chasing Aphrodite” that brought to light the extent to which the Turkish repatriation committee had pursued America’s biggest temple to art.

There are 18 disputed pieces at the Met, including a gold statue of a goddess and silver, animal-shaped vessels from the Hittite Empire. They are from the collection of Norbert Schimmel, a millionaire and museum trustee who died in 1990. He once admitted that his passion for collecting “borders on madness.”

It isn’t a good sign.

As a precaution, the Met beefed up its legal department and wrote a letter to Erdogan.

The Louvre in Paris is also fighting back. It refuses to relinquish a collection of colorful tiles from the mausoleum of Selim II (who died in 1574). One of the sultan’s dentists had acquired the precious tiles in the 19th century “in good faith,” as the French are claiming.

The Turks, for their part, say that the dentist was a swindler. In retaliation, they have revoked their adversary’s most important excavation license. Now French archeologists are no longer permitted to work at the Xanthos UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is a serious setback.

Victims or Hypocrites?

Is this fair? Critics are openly airing their displeasure with Turkey’s behavior online. Instead of lodging complaints, they argue, Turkey ought to return the Obelisk of Theodosius, which stands in Istanbul, to Egypt.

Indeed, the Ottomans themselves weren’t squeamish when it came to appropriating cultural goods. They stole artifacts in Mecca and allowed a private British citizen to pry away the frieze from the Parthenon in Athens — in return for a lot of money. During the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974, the occupiers emptied out entire museums.

“The Turks are too determined to depict themselves as victims of cultural oppression to accept that foreign museums and archaeologists have also played a part in saving their treasures,” the Economist wrote in May. For example, when the German archeologist Carl Humann entered the majestic ruins of Pergamon in 1864, he saw large numbers of lime kilns in use. Workers were smashing ancient marble columns and throwing the pieces into the fire. After reaching a deal with the Ottoman government, he then brought the Pergamon Altar back to Berlin to be the centerpiece of a museum of the same name. But Turkey has long called for its repatriation.

Other questions include: How much of a moral right do the Turks have to repatriation? And how well-documented are their ownership claims?The British Museum has already decide not to give in to Turkey’s demand for the repatriation of the Samsat Stele. Archeologist Leonard Woolley discovered the stone tablet with a farmer in 1911. He later took it with him to Syria, where the authorities issued him the necessary export permit.

At the time, Woolley felt that he was doing a noble deed, and that he had in fact rescued the heavy stone tablet. The farmer had been using it as an olive press.

26 new sites inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List

From UNESCO:

A total of five natural World Heritage Sites were inscribed during the present session of the World Heritage Committee: Lakes of Ounianga (Chad); Sangha Trinational (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo,); Chengjiang Fossil Site (China); Western Ghats (India); Lena Pillars Nature Park (Russian Federation).

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau) was inscribed as a mixed natural and cultural site.

A total of 20 cultural sites were inscribed during the session:

  • Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy (Bahrain); Major Mining Sites of Wallonia (Belgium);
  • Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea (Brazil);
  • The Landscape of Grand-Pré (Canada);
  • Site of Xanadu (China);
  • Historic Town Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire);
  • Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin (France);
  • Margravial Opera House Bayreuth (Germany);
  • Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy (Indonesia);
  • Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan (Islamic Republic of Iran),
  • Gonbad-e Qābus (Islamic Republic of Iran);
  • Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel : The Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara Caves (Israel);
  • Archaelogical Heritage of the Lenggong Valley (Malaysia);
  • Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (Morocco);
  • Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine);
  • Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (Portugal);
  • Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes (Senegal);
  • Heritage of Mercury Almadén and Idrija (Slovenia/Spain);
  • Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland (Sweden);
  • Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük (Turkey).

More detailed descriptions of each of the newly inscribed properties can be found here (with photos).

Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, as it was added to the List of World Heritage. Two of Mali’s World Heritage sites, Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia, were also added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, as were Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City (UK) and the Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Panama).

Two conservation success stories were recognized by the World Heritage Committee allowing for them to be removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger: Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore (Pakistan) and the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (Philippines).

36 sites considered for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

 

From whc:

The World Heritage Committee will consider the inscription of 36 sites on the World Heritage List during its next meeting from 24 June to 6 July, in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

The forthcoming 36 th session of the Committee , an independent body of 21 States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention , will be chaired by. Eleonora Mitrofanova, Ambassador Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO. For the first time in its 40-year history, members of the public and the media will be able to follow the debates of the Committee through live streaming on the internet.

Five natural sites are to be considered for inscription: Chad, Lakes of Ounianga; China, Chengjian Fossil Site; Congo, Cameroon and Central African Republic, Sangha Trinational; India, Western Ghats; Russian Federation, Lena Pillars Nature Park.

Three “mixed sites” are to be considered for inscription for their natural and cultural values: Israel, Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: The Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara caves; Palau, Rock islands Southern Lagoon; Spain Plasencia-Monfrague-Trujillo: Mediterranean Landscape.

Twenty-eight cultural sites are to be considered: Bahrain, Pearling, testimony of an island economy; Belgium, Major Mining Sites of Wallonia; Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea; Canada, Landscape of Grand Pré; China, Site of Xanadu; Côte d’Ivoire, Historic Town of Grand-Bassam; Croatia, Sacral Complex on the remains of the Roman Forum in Zadar; France, Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin; France, the Chauvet – Pont d’Arc decorated cave; Germany, Margravial Opera House Bayreuth; Germany, Schwetzingen: A Prince Elector’s Summer Residence; India, Hill Forts of Rajasthan; Indonesia, Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: The Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy; Islamic Republic of Iran, Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan; Iran, Gonbad-e Qābus; Italy, Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato; Malaysia, Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley; Morocco, Rabat, modern capital and historic city: a shared heritage; Palestine, Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem; Portugal, Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications; Qatar, Al Zubarah Archaeological Site; Russian Federation, Russian Kremlins; Senegal, Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes; Slovenia and Spain; Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija; Sweden, Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland; The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Archaeo-Astronomical Site – Kokino; Turkey, Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük; Ukraine, Kyiv: Saint-Sophia Cathedral with related Monastic Buildings, St. Cyril’s and St. Andrew’s Churches (extension).

Both The Chauvet – Pont d’Arc decorated cave (France) and the Church of the Nativity and pilgrimage route, Bethlehem (Palestine) will be processed on an emergency basis and the documents that concern them are not yet available.

Chad, Congo, Palau, Palestine and Qatar stand to enter the World Heritage List with their first inscriptions.

Palestine, which became a member of UNESCO in October 2011 and subsequently ratified the World Heritage Convention, will be presenting its first site for inscription on the World Heritage List.

The World Heritage List, created under the terms of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage numbers 936 properties forming part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers to be of outstanding universal value. Sites inscribed include 725 cultural, 183 natural and 28 mixed properties in 153 States Parties . One-hundred-eighty-nine States Parties have ratified the World Heritage Convention to date.

 

Archaeologists blast hasty World Heritage listings

From NewsWatch:

One of the most significant global committees that you never heard of summoned a couple of hundred experts to the island of Menorca, Spain last week. The meeting involved politics, the remnants of great civilizations, human catastrophes, architectural triumphs, religious works of art and architecture, use of tourism, the rise and fall of empires, and did we say politics?

The International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management, or ICAHM, held its first conference on how to manage the world’s myriad archaeological World Heritage sites. This wildly varied array of places encompasses many of the most celebrated sites of human cultural accomplishment and catastrophe—everything from the pyramids and Roman fortifications to Mongol-era tombs and prehistoric rock art. ICAHM’s key job is to advise the World Heritage Committee about new sites proposed for the famous list. I attended as a guest of the Congress, which paid for my travel.

Right at the outset, ICAHM co-president Dr. Willem J.H. Willems of Leiden, Netherlands, put the core issue on the table. “Archaeology is the study of the past,” he said in his April 9 keynote, but “the past doesn’t exist anymore. Heritage is about the use of the past in the present.” And that’s where it gets interesting. And risky.

Too many countries are rushing to use the past—their heritage sites—for present purposes. Willems sharply criticized the way that sites are proposed and awarded World Heritage inscription. According to the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty, sites should be awarded a place on the list based on solid scientific and academic reasoning. Not happening, said Willems. The World Heritage Committee has been approving too many applications based on economic and “radically political” expediency.

For most countries, World Heritage status is a hotly desired prize. A background note may be necessary for some of the American audience here, where a myth prevails that a World Heritage listing means giving up sovereignty to UNESCO. In fact, World Heritage inscription simply means your country gets the sites that it requests “inscribed” on the World Heritage list. The conditions are that the sites are of “outstanding universal value” and that you take good care of them. If you don’t, the worst UNESCO can do is propose removal from the list.

Most countries, especially impoverished developing nations, are eager to put their greatest natural and cultural places on the list. Why? Prestige in part, national pride in part, yes, but also that modern vein of gold: tourism! An inscription puts you on the travel map.

Tourism Unleashed

When it comes to historic and archaeological sites, though, a blind grab for tourism is playing with fire. Without care, “loved-to-death” syndrome is a real threat. Listen to what ICAHM’s other co-president, Dr. Douglas Comer of Baltimore, Maryland, had to say about one ancient site he knows well: Petra, Jordan.  Once such a site is damaged, he stressed, the physical archaeological record is gone forever.

“Petra had about 45,000 visitors in 1985,” Comer told the meeting. “It’s now close to 800,000.” Tourism-related construction at Petra destroyed Nabataean terra cotta pipes more than 2,000 years old. The sandstone seats in the Theatre have survived two millennia, but in the past two decades so many tourists have sat on them that they have worn away the stonemasons’ marks. History wiped by butts. Overall, abrasion from visitor traffic has removed well over a foot of sandstone from the interior of Petra’s most famous monument, Al-Khazna, seen as the repository of the Holy Grail in an Indiana Jones movie. Development at nearby Wadi Musa created impermeable pavement, which in turn floods sandstone with too much water and erodes it. Donkeys carrying tourists gradually destroyed the ancient Nabataean steps.  The practice has been stopped—too late for the steps. In a common pattern, USAID and others have put over $30 million toward supporting tourism to Jordan, but comparatively little has gone to preservation.

And those are the problems at just one site!

The archaeologists were not calling for an end to tourism—not at all. They want us to share the thrill and knowledge of these places. But like any predictable flood, the torrent of tourists needs careful control and planning. Comer called for a requirement that site applications include a credible “best management practices” plan—tourism impacts included—and that inscriptions be made provisional, becoming permanent after convincingly long-term demonstration of those best practices.

That takes us back to Willems’s complaint with the World Heritage Committee’s performance over the past few years: “In 44 percent of the cases, the Committee proceeded to inscribe sites on the World Heritage List that in the judgment of the advisory bodies had not met the requirements for inscription.” He called it “extreme disregard of expert advice.” In his view, these newly listed sites are ignoring the speed limit and heading for Dead Man’s Curve.

Willems doesn’t say these sites are unworthy of inscription, just that they’re not properly assessed, protected, and ready for the attention inscription could bring.   Some of the problem derives from the legitimate need to rectify a Eurocentric tilt in the initial inscriptions. But that can mean a rush to list places that are not ready. Especially egregious was the case of the Preah Vihear Temple on the disputed Cambodian-Thai border. In 2008 the Committee granted Cambodia’s application over Thai and expert objections, sparking a border conflict. “Now these people are shooting each other!” says Willems.

I asked him for some other examples of not-ready-for-prime-time World Heritage inscriptions. He cited Burkina Faso’s Loropéni, a 1,000-year-old gold-trade site, rushed to approval to help a desperately poor West African country get some tourism revenue, but without satisfactory study. The Kushite ruins in Sudan’s Island of Meroe met “minimum requirements for nothing” except Sudan’s need for prestige. Wadi Rum in Jordan received an inscription despite too many tourists without adequate planning or control.

Not all talks criticized the process. Much of the conference consisted of the specialists reporting to each other. It’s arcane but often fascinating stuff: Laser scanning industrial heritage sites in Wales; community action at El Tajin in Veracruz, Mexico; protecting the hominid footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania; World Heritage candidacy for ancient stone spheres in Costa Rica; the fate of heritage sites in post-conflict Libya; how to protect Peru’s Caral ruins—old as the Egyptian pyramids.

Archaeological Menorca

The government of Menorca chose to host this conference in part so as to show off their own cultural heritage, beginning with the conference venue, the impressively restored Theatre Principal in old town Mahon, Menorca’s capital. The oldest opera house in Spain, this red plush, 1829 creation has 5 stories of box-seats—more suited to a production of La Dolores than a quasi-academic conference.

But what really surprised me about the island was the proliferation of megalithic ruins, many of them from the 3,000-year-old Talayotic Culture, unique to Menorca. Their iconic talayots, fat cylindrical stone watchtowers, sit atop numerous knolls and hills all over the island. Even more dramatic are the T-shaped taula stones, looking like detached bits of Stonehenge. Add dolmens, communal tombs, barrows, Roman constructions, and entire neolithic villages, and you’re in antiquity heaven. “There’s hardly a farm on Menorca without a monument,” someone had observed.

Early one morning local archaeologist Margarita Orfila Pons took four of us to a two-level talayot off the tourist trail. As the group climbed it, someone dislodged a stone, which rolled a few feet down the side of the structure and came to rest. No big deal. But it was easy to see what would happen to the tower if 100,000 people a year were climbing it, decade after decade.

Later we joined the other attendees touring the island’s archaeological gems, including an elaborate lunch in the attractive town of Ciutadella. Touring the ruins with two busloads of archaeologists and students can be taxing, though. After hearing hours of on-site technical descriptions of sandstone this and limestone that, even the pros’ attentions were flagging.

Academia, Management, and Money

At the top of this post I called ICAHM significant. That doesn’t necessarily mean effective. Some presentations do have practical value, providing tools and ideas for taking better care of these sites, for involving local people, for engaging tourists. Others lean more toward the academic and theoretical, with titles like “Architecture and Urban Structure in Hierapolis: An Archaeological Perspective,” “Formal Educational Curricula and Cultural Heritage,” and “Insularity [and] Interaction with Foreign and Social Complexity.” Focusing on one of these after a two-hour Spanish lunch would have called for a constant IV flow of espresso. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see enough actionable propositions or recommendations. Rather little emphasis on the “M” in ICAHM.

I believe the pressures afflicting our great cultural sites demand a greater sense of urgency. The 2006 NatGeo survey of World Heritage destination stewardship revealed drastically differing levels of success in supporting cultural sites and the visitor experiences, ranging from the well-managed Alhambra and Granada in Spain to the grossly overtrafficked, underexplained Angkor and its Siem Reap gateway town. The extent to which ICAHM is effective will depend on participants’ ability to focus on action and not just academic theory. One late-session speaker, after he was done lambasting the inscription and management of World Heritage sites in Ethiopia, pointed out that the conference’s earlier “Social Action” set of 15-minute presentations did not live up to their billing. “Social action was mentioned in the last 30 seconds.”

But there’s another, major problem with ICAHM. The scientists are expected to do all this work for free.

This was the third of Comer’s calls to action: Get support. In recent decades we have seen millions of dollars spent to attract tourists, and pennies to protect what they travel to see.

Judging from what I’ve seen this week, ICAHM knows it has a long way to go, as does the World Heritage program, as do we all. Otherwise the tangible story of our species crumbles, one dislodged stone at a time, and with it, the knowledge of who we are.