Mission Possible: 
Penn’s Troops Lecture Program Works With Local Soldiers on Archaeological Conservation

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Media Contact: | | October 15, 2012

War is not good for historical and archaeological preservation, and a University of Pennsylvania professor is working with the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force to do something about it.

C. Brian Rose is the curator-in-charge at the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s Mediterranean Section. His mission is to provide greater protection for cultural property in areas of conflict.

Rose, who came to Penn in 2005 and is the James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology, is committed to the preservation of cultural heritage.  He’s used several public-outreach programs to highlight looting, the black-market trade in art and antiquities and the wartime damage to archeological sites.

One of those educational outreach avenues takes his cultural-heritage preservation efforts to Iraq and Afghanistan via the service members who are on their way there.  Through his Troops Lecture Program, Rose has a far-reaching, long-lasting, global impact when it comes to safeguarding historic treasures. 

For nearly a decade, he has offered pre-deployment education and training for armed-forces personnel bound for Iraq and Afghanistan to emphasize cultural-heritage issues and awareness, as well as to inform them of the potential for archeological-site looting.  Military members learn about the regions’ historical backgrounds, heritage and resources, site recognition, emergency salvage, museums, looting -- and why it all matters.

“Who knew that my knowledge of handling and interacting with these ancient cultures could actually be relevant for today – and for today’s military?” Rose says. 

It all started when he received some disturbing reports from the field.

As the president-elect of the Archaeological Institute of America, he could not ignore the information he’d received about the destruction of museums, libraries and archaeological sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Something had to be done: looting at historic sties and cultural institutions throughout these areas had increased dramatically, as had iconoclasm, the purposeful destruction of religious monuments,” Rose explains.  “The most prominent examples were the colossal Buddha statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley, which had been dynamited by the Taliban.

“There were very few archaeological conservators in the country and many of the museums had been looted,” Rose, a trustee of the American Academy in Rome, says.  “So much in Afghanistan, in particular, had been destroyed – if not during the Soviet invasion, then during the civil war or during the period of the Taliban.”

Members of the U.S. armed forces were deploying with no cultural-heritage training and had little understanding of the cultures they were charged with protecting. 

To help address these educational shortcomings, Rose came up with the idea for Troops Lectures, a program that takes archaeologists to U.S. military bases to teach the cultural heritage of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Because soldiers became the primary security agents at both archaeological sites and museums, Rose believed these briefings would promote a greater comprehension of and respect for cultural heritage and preservation in areas of conflict.  He also hoped that this program would play a role in decreasing the number of antiquities smuggled out of the country.

Rose turned to an old friend from school to help him navigate the military matrix.  One of his fellow graduate students who studied Mediterranean history and archaeology in the early 1980s at Columbia University was serving as a colonel in the Marines and suggested that Rose submit this educational program idea to the U.S. Central Command.

In his proposal, Rose outlined how military personnel could be called upon to patrol archaeological sites and museums and how the program would focus on educational outreach, sharing information about the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and Afghanistan. 

He also pointed out that the sale of looted antiquities is a funding source for terrorism.

After approval of his proposal, Rose delivered his inaugural lecture in 2004 at Camp Lejeune, N.C.  He talked about historic preservation, conservation, the importance of objects in context, and similarities between Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s past and our own culture today. 

Soon the program grew.  Rose lectured at military bases in New York, Texas and Virginia and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rose was even invited by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the State Department to advise them on archaeological conservation.

“From the beginning of the program, I was amazed at the hospitality we were shown,” Rose says.  “I was surprised at the age range of the deploying soldiers –- some are younger than my work-study students.  And yet, many are returning to places that I can only dream of visiting.”

And, he continues to be impressed with the quality of the soldier’s comments at the briefings.

“They ask such great questions,” Rose says.  “They relate to the material and the culture in ways that I can’t imagine. This is terrific because we hoped that we would be able to instill in them a love for the preservation of antiquity that was as great as ours.”

In fact, the questions the military members were asking at the end of each presentation helped to shape the program and develop its content.

As much as Rose has taught the military, he’s learned much from them, too.  He not only appreciates the cultural differences between academia and military organizations but also he understands the importance of flexibility.

“Academics are accustomed to lecture tours in which we are given generous introductions, taken out to dinner and sometimes put up in hotels that are quite luxurious.  That doesn’t happen in the Army,” Rose explains.  “Training schedules can change suddenly, and one has to react rapidly and diplomatically to alterations in the timing and locations of the briefings. Finding archaeologists who were willing to adapt to this routine proved problematic.  I had to do far more of the briefings myself than I initially planned.”

Originally, Rose wanted to see the Troops Lectures incorporated by all other countries that deploy troops to the Middle East so that the cultural awareness training would be as broad-based as possible.  While he hasn’t yet achieved that, it is catching on.

The Troops Lecture program is now one of a handful of international educational efforts aimed at preventing the initial plundering and removal of artifacts.

So far, similar programs have been adopted in Germany and Italy, whose troops have been deploying to northern Afghanistan, and in Bulgaria, which sends troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. 

A complementary initiative is being sponsored by the American Institute for Conservation and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross.

At Fort Drum, the Department of Defense Legacy Program has funded a new Cultural Heritage Training Project for deploying personnel.  It is designed to demonstrate that careful treatment of heritage sites overseas is essential to the success of military missions.

Through the years, Rose has received emails from soldiers after their training and deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan that show just how much this outreach has made a difference. 

“Some of the soldiers have mentioned that they were able to stop looting at an archeological site, or they noticed a change in the soil during construction and stopped the process because they realized that they might be getting close to an ancient settlement,” he says.

The next step in expanding the program involves a government mandate. 

He began lobbying Congress to have cultural-heritage instruction made a mandatory component of pre-deployment training for all U.S. military personnel. 

“Icons are symbols that carry great power and often constitute the nucleus of a community.  It’s therefore not surprising that they are so frequently the targets of attacks -- by conquerors, by those who follow a different religion or by those who seek to wound a community for whatever reason,” Rose explains.  “This kind of iconoclastic fervor has been a component of society since the beginning of recorded history, 5,000 years ago, and it will probably never go away.  Nevertheless, we have to do everything in our power to preserve it.”

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