Middle East Studies

Lecture | The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq: Current Debate and Protection Efforts

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

5:30pm – 7:00pm

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Lecture by archaeologist Salam Al Kuntar.

Cultural heritage has fallen prey to destruction by heavy artillery, targeted explosive attacks and looting during current war in Syria and Iraq. While the destruction of the ancient past may seem insignificant compared with present-day atrocities, the irrecoverable damage to cultural heritage might have a severe impact on the cultural identity of the people who survive this war. This talk discusses how the damage to cultural heritage is not merely the loss of magnificent historical monuments but rather an acute disruption of a dynamic past with its living historical places and traditions. The talk provides a critical appraisal of the responses that have been advanced to protect cultural heritage during the crisis to date and also highlights some heritage preservation projects designed to address local needs inside Syria. These projects may offer some measure of success and hope for saving heritage and helping the people who are struggling to live through this war.

Salam Al Kuntar is a Syrian archaeologist. She is currently a Research Fellow at the Penn Museum of the University of Pennsylvania. She co-directs the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project—a project run by the Penn Cultural Heritage Center, the Smithsonian Institute, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Salam has worked with the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria in a number of capacities from 1996-2012. Salam has excavated at numerous sites in Syria and is the Co-Director of the Tell Hamoukar Expedition from 2005 to the present. She received her diploma in Archaeology and Museums from Damascus University (1995), her MA in Archaeology from the University of Liverpool (2004), and her PhD in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge (2009). Her research interests center upon the archaeology and heritage of the Middle East exploring a wide variety of themes such as ancient economy and urbanism, human mobility and cultural boundaries, forced migration, cultural heritage and identity. Her publications include scholarly articles and chapter contributions on early urbanism in Mesopotamia, and on the excavations at Hamoukar, as well as analyses of current struggles in cultural heritage. Salam is a National Geographic emerging explorer. She is involved in Nat Geo Saving the Past recent initiative.

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