Sunday, February 5, 2012

Protecting Cultural Heritage Goes Mainstream

In our mission to secure cultural history we are faced with countless challenges.  For example, how can we ensure that artifacts are safeguarded against theft and vandalism? That they retain their integrity as pieces of cultural history? What are the optimal, and feasible, methods of protecting and conserving these cultural entities? Artifacts preserve culture, and as artifacts are a means of learning about, revering, and remember our pasts, artifact security is of paramount importance.
On February 3, Arab News reported that the national campaign to recover the Kingdom’s antiques and heritage pieces has elicited a remarkable response.  The efforts of the campaign prompted citizens to come forward and return artifacts to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).   
According to the Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper, the citizens were proud that they had returned these historical pieces; the initiatives taken by the tourism authorities and the Prince Sultan bin Salman (president of SCTA) have effectively encouraged citizens to take part in the national duty of securing the Kingdom’s rich heritage and making it available for display to citizens and tourists.  These artifacts will be showcased at the National Exhibition for Retrieved Artifacts, held at the National Museum in Riyadh.  According to Ali Al-Ghabban, vice president of the antiquities and museums sector at SCTA, the hope is that the exhibition will “…convey a strong message to all people who smuggled artifacts out of the Kingdom to return them.”  The positive response of the citizens is indicative of their growing awareness to preserve their cultural history.  So far, SCTA has retrieved about 14,000 artifacts from abroad.
Damage to cultural heritage is rampant.  Illicit artifact trade, propagated by the demands of the arts market, transport systems, opened borders, and political instability, is a transnational crime and has severe implications for cultural security.  While we must work towards stronger and more effective legislation for cultural property laws and practices, we must also be realistic.  While ideally we would stop looting at its source—archaeological sites—or at least secure borders against the transportation of artifacts from their countries of origin, the resources to do so are just not available.  So, what are our options? 
From the example set by SCTA it seems that, for the present, the protection of cultural heritage comes down to education and ethics.  By raising awareness regarding the importance of cultural security individuals will, hopefully, play their part in putting an end to illicit trade and vandalism.  We must take preservation of cultural history seriously and continue to brainstorm ideas to ensure the protection of cultural heritage worldwide.
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on

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