Welcome to our initiative

Hyperspectral analysis, gold prospecting and archaeology

SkyviewsDjenne is part of a longer story that started with a blog first written on 28th April, 2013.

The challenge was to  imagine and explore the enormous possibilities created by technological advances was inspired by a conversation with Jim Martin, entrepreneur, visionary, writer and philanthropist who funded the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University shortly before  he died, so this blog is dedicated to his vision. A vision which was the springboard for the 2020 Education movement, and underpins this initiative as well.

‘If I could be any age, I would like to be your age now’ words of Dr Jim Martin to a young audience last year.  https://vimeo.com/43240950

Sometimes with all the bad news – such as youth unemployment reaching more than 60% in some countries, it is difficult to be that optimistic.

Then, at an oil and gas conference in Tripoli, I met an American geologist, Emily Scott King specializing in using drones to carry hyperspectral  geological surveys in remote places, inaccessible or simply insecure places https://www.usgs.gov/news/hyperspectral-surveying-tool-assessing-mineral-potential-alaska . She had searched for copper deposits in the Andes and more recently gold in the Hindu Kush. She is now in Libya.

Listening to her, I begun to appreciate how we are beginning to be able to use satellite and the new generation of civilian drones for remote imaging to see things that would have been invisible to past generations.

Hyperspectral imaging involves combining and processing images from different parts of the energy spectrum – including the visible light spectrum as well as other parts such as infrared. Such images can be combined with other datasets that might include the magnetic fields and minor fluctuations to expose that which is normally invisible. These could be the tell tale signs of a rare mineral deposit or even an archaeological find.

In Egypt, hyperspectral imaging has been used to detect changes in the soil structure that might even be a mud brick 20 cms underground. One of the leaders in this field is Sarah Parnack at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, US. She has discovered 17 buried pyramids, 3,000 settlements and 1,000 tombs across Egypt.kqhnfyaaiocjuzo-o7oi-ptpstei4-mxn1ec_44jh54

Yesterday, walking through the ruins of one of the greatest Roman cities – Leptis Magna, I wondered what people like Emily Scott King and Sarah Parnack would have made of the ruins and what lies beneath them.

Emerging from the dunes, the city stretches for miles. A colossal site with marble and carved limestone wherever you look, and a small number of extraordinary restorations. The Phoenicians started using the natural harbour to trade from as long ago as 1200BC. Now the harbour was silted up and a sand bar has formed across the mouth. The harbour itself is a lush green – with palms growing. The scale of the ruins was overwhelming. leptis-theatre_2500376k1Goodness knows what hyperspectral imaging might reveal from the layers of 2500 years of settlement.

I wondered what the technologists at the Fraunhoffer Institute in Germany that have devised some of the most sophisticated and powerful jig saw solving tools in the world http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19344978 , would have been able to make of the jumble of rocks. They have developed their algorithms to piece together the millions of fragments of paper that represent the shredded remains of the Stasi’s secret files. It’s a publically funded project which is part of the integration of the two Germany’s as part of their truth and reconciliation process.

I wondered how augmented reality could help you see the ruins as they are and as they were.hqdefault

I wondered who will bring all these new technologies together to reveal even greater wonders from Libya’s rich heritage which might enrich its future.

It will need the new skills and vision of a new generation to do it.

Exciting progress thanks to the Humanitarian Innovation Fund.

The Humanitarian Innovation Fund, run by the Elrha organisation (Enhancing Learning & Research for Humanitarian Assistance) has helped to sponsor our project in Djenné!

Here is the link to the project page: http://www.elrha.org/…/community-based-mapping-modelling-m…/

You can also learn more about the HiF fund and the other projects they support around the world (eighty-five and counting): http://www.elrha.org/hif/about/

It is very exciting to have them on the support team, with lots of important work to be done in the very near future!

Heritage Stewardship: DO NO HARM

Jason Felch and Bastien Varoutsikos write about the collision of iconoclasm and clickbait that creates a powerful propaganda machine for Daesh and potentially other terrorist groups around the world. They point to the way that the very people seeking to draw attention to the cultural desecration to mobilise resources to stop it, are sometimes unwittingly becoming complicit in the process of spreading terror.

The way social media with its memes and viral communications, and online publishing works, accentuates this danger. Clickbait refers to online content, typically video or images of a sensational or provocative nature, whose purpose is to attract attention and through curiosity, or some emotional hook, persuade people to click through to a new website, and enter a new narrative. In the case of Daesh propaganda for spreading fear, glamorizing the cause and recruiting.

Felch and Varoutsikos raise the challenge to the media of how best ‘to cover iconoclasm without becoming complicit in their crimes by spreading Isil propaganda uncritically, especially on social media’.

For those whose job is to report and document the destruction, such a challenge requires a careful self reflection. It is not unlike the publication of Peter Uvin’s book in 1998 on the Rwandan Genocide called ‘Aiding Violence’ and Mary Anderson’s book ‘Do No Harm’ which caused aid workers to stop and consider the often unintended consequences of seeking to ameliorate suffering amongst communities affected by violent conflict. Anderson highlighted how aid ‘too often also feeds into, reinforces and prolongs conflict’.51luaimjzfl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Felch and Varoutsikos map out a way forward for those concerned with heritage stewardship:

‘We must cover iconoclasm without becoming complicit in their crimes by spreading Isil propaganda uncritically, especially on social media. When we do use their images, we should clearly label them as propaganda, not treat them as news images. And as tragic as the loss of historical sites like Palmyra may be, we should not let it outshine the plight of Syrian civilians. 

We have a model for this path: it was done successfully after Isil began broadcasting videos of hostage beheadings. After the killing of American journalist James Foley spread across the internet in August 2014, media organisations, experts, social media companies and the general public voluntarily stopped the spread of subsequent beheading videos. They soon lost their power for Isil.  By January 2015, with its propaganda efforts flagging, Isil abandoned the staged executions and began its campaign of spectacular destruction of archaeological sites. Those in turn stopped when Isil launched coordinated terror attacks first in Paris and now Brussels.   Looking back, we should have been as reluctant to spread images of the choreographed destruction of heritage as we were of humans.’

When Uvin and Anderson were writing their respective books, a leading humanitarian commentator, Prof Tim Allen, wrote:

‘there was ample evidence that the Quixotic altruism of international aid workers in internal wars was less a real solution to the suffering of traumatized populations, and more a response to demands for action among electorates in rich countries who had been disturbed by the media coverage.’

With the images of the destruction of Palmyra splashed across Facebook pages, there quickly followed a replica triumphal arch erected in Central London. A little later there were  the launch of a number of bilateral cultural protection funds. It is crucial that these funds go beyond the symbolic, and ensure a more lasting legacy of greater connection between the communities and their heritage as well as where possible seeing heritage as a bridge to peace. But when identities are contested and people’s survival is at stake, how can one ensure that heritage really is a bridge to peace rather than an object whose destruction is part of the waging of war and the proliferation of terrorism?

In conflict zones the protection of heritage sites is complex. Heritage programs must be sensitive to security and humanitarian concerns, and require the development of a coherent narrative that addresses the needs and aspirations of local societies in distress.  There is much that can be learnt from the humanitarian community about the crucial differences of working in and on conflict where the latter sees any intervention as seeking to ameliorate the underlying dynamics that drive and fuel the conflict.

An appropriately designed heritage protection and preservation program should complement and enhance a straightforward humanitarian, governance and economic development response.

A key challenge is to ensure heritage stewardship integrates a community based approach to heritage protection, building on the insights from the humanitarian community of working in conflict affected regions and the approaches that have the potential to enhance the economic well-being of communities, re-connect local societies with their historical roots and antiquities and transform cultural protection.

Even in communities experiencing extreme distress, there are many examples of extraordinary individuals using their traditional skills and knowledge to preserve a space free of war, and build sensitivities within youth growing up with war as their primary reference.  To succeed, preserving heritage must be framed around community priorities and build on the actions of these individuals in their communities.

Seeing the invisible

Is the next discovery right in front of us?


Could the new frontiers to be explored be less about physical frontiers and more about spectral frontiers? It sounds like something from Dr. Who where the whole world around us changes form when seen through a new lens.

What’s more is that what we can then see, may take us back in time from hundreds of years like the rings on a tree or the millions of years as revealed in the Vostok ice core drilled in Antarctica.

A whole range of new sensors is opening up a whole new world before our eyes. Previously we were limited to seeing what was before our eyes – the visible spectrum.


Now we can see through structures and soil to see the substructures and formations behind it using ‘ground penetrating radar’ and LIDAR.  Such substructures can give us a picture of long forgotten civilisations and insights into the prehistory of man.

Whereas exploration in previous decades involved long journeys often to remote locations, now new discoveries may be just in front of us. Techniques that were the preserve of those engaged in space exploration are now being used down to earth.  LIDAR came to fame when it was used in the Apollo 15 mission in 1971 to map the surface of the moon. Over the last few years, what was once the domain of NASA scientists has been opened up by the miniaturisation of the sensor to enable it to be used on drones for ground surveys. It can use ultraviolet, visible, or near infrared light to illuminate the ground or any objects.

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) can be used to look beneath the surface and benefits from the ability of drones to accurately fly at very low level – just a metre or so above the ground, firing radar pulses at the ground and picking up the reflections. Objects below the ground may reflect, absorb or just scatter the radiation.

But seeing the invisible may be possible in some cases using a normal digital camera. Inside the sensor is a silicon chip that is sensitive to a much wider spectrum of light than traditional photographic cameras ever were.  To improve their image quality most digital cameras have special filters to block out the invisible wavelengths such as infra red.

If these filters are taken out the sensitivity of these cameras to ‘Near Infra Red’ (NIR) can open up a whole new world. NIR can see through haze, it can make things stand out even in low light. Near infrared imaging is typically used in night vision goggles and thermal imaging used for tracking heat signals. Each of these can be used to track warm blooded wildlife which may be well camouflaged under normal circumstances.

Healthy plants absorb red and blue light making them usually appear to the naked eye as a vibrant green colour. Plants that are stressed by lack of moisture or nutrients change colour. The chlorophyll that captures that red and blue light may breakdown, and the carotenoids pigments become more dominant, causing the leaves to yellow. The yellowing of crops in an otherwise healthy green field may reflect archaeological features such as stone walls or floors. Greener or more luxuriant vegetation may reveal trenches, pits or even graves, where the extra organic material encourages faster growth or indentation in the soil substructure captures moisture more effectively.

Motte and Bailey castles were introduced into Britain following the Norman invasion of 1066. They consisted of a a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earthwork called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch and palisade. By taking a normal digital image from a quadcopter of the remains of a Motte and Bailey castle, the footprint of that castle can be clearly seen in the rings of vegetation. The differences in vegetation can be seen clearly in the winter’s landscape with the contrast further enhanced by processing the image to increase what is known as ‘Red Edge effect’ caused by the adsorptive properties of chlorophyll, as well as the shadowing that occurs with a low winter’s light.


Often interpreting images made from sensors working outside the visible spectrum requires expert insight to understand and appreciate its limitations and potential for artefacts.  Great clarity can sometime be gained by combining different imaging techniques and seeing the correlations and differences between them.

A plain green field may – with near infrared imaging – reveal patterns of an earlier civilisation within it.


Image courtesy of Historic England

Expert interpretation can enable archaeologists to determine ancient structures that might be beneath the surface – be their walls or ditches.


Image courtesy of Historic England

Now these sensors are becoming so compact they can even be carried by drones opening up even greater possibilities.

As  Jeffrey Quilter, the archaeologist with Harvard University said, ‘You can go up three metres and photograph a room, 300 metres and photograph a site, or you can go up 3,000 metres and photograph the entire valley.’

Crucially all it takes is a height of 10-100m to reveal the cropmarks, soil marks and shadow marks that provide the tell tales of the hidden world beneath the surface. Drones open up opportunities to then deploy these sensors in ways we could hardly have imagined less than a decade ago.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences launches the ‘R2P Cultural Heritage project’

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has just launched the ‘R2P Cultural Heritage project’. The focus of this initiative is to look at the implications of the ‘Responsibility to Protect (R2P)’ law in the context of the stewardship of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflict Zones raising two questions:

  1. What role might the international community play in protecting the cultural heritage sites located in countries experiencing violent conflict?
  2. And in particular what would be the conditions and process that would enable this to happen?

This comes on the back of a number of other bilateral initiatives including the UK and French Governments, as well as new precedent in international law.

In the UK, this June, the UK Government’s the Department for Culture Media and Sport launched in partnership with the British Council the Cultural Protection Fund. The objective of this new £30 million fund is to help to create opportunities for economic and social development through building capacity to foster, safeguard and promote cultural heritage in conflict-affected regions overseas.

In France, this September, President Hollande announced the creation of a $100m fund from private and public donors to respond to the threat of terrorist attacks on cultural sites and “protect the resources of humanity.”’ As well as appealing for sites to be better protected, Hollande called for a strengthened commitment to cultural preservation that might include “intervention”.

The rush to do something comes after a decade in which issues surrounding the destruction of cultural property and the Hague Convention have centred on tensions in Iraq, Mali, and between Israeli relations with Palestine and Lebanon, but over the last year the destruction of cultural property in places like Palmyra, Syria and Nimrud and Hatra in Iraq, has caught the headlines.

The R2P norm, which was enshrined and adopted by the UN Security Council in 2005, restricts its use to four particular crimes: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has now established a precedent of the destruction of heritage being a war crime. On 27 September 2016, the ICC found a Malian Islamist accused of destroying historical and religious monuments in the city of Timbuktu guilty in the first-ever prosecution of the destruction of cultural heritage as a war crime. War crimes, as defined by Rule 156 of Customary International Humanitarian Law, include “intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historical monuments or hospitals.”

For Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, the ICC case supports UNESCO’s conviction that heritage has a major role to play in reconstruction and peace building and that ‘deliberate attacks on culture have become weapons of war in a global strategy of cultural cleansing seeking to destroy people as well as the monuments bearing their identities, institutions of knowledge and free thought’.

How we respond to the growing political support for taking action and use the funds wisely?

In December the Academy will be convening a meeting among renowned museum directors, art historians, military officials, policymakers, and specialists in international law and doctrine formation, to discuss what role the international community at large can play in protecting the cultural heritage sites located in countries experiencing violent conflict.

What can we learn from other fields about R2P and the critical but complex aspect of ensuring a conflict sensitive approach?

The complexity of civil war and the wide range of mandates and modalities for intervention, mean that there is generally very little agreement about the kinds of interventions that are appropriate. The dilemma is made more acute by the fear that the wrong kind of intervention can cause harm or even aggravate the underlying conflict. As Hugo Slim highlighted in, what he defined as ‘Nightingale’s risk’ humanitarian action can be co-opted by and actually assist warring parties. Peter Ulvin (Aiding Violence) and Mary Anderson (Do No Harm) have shown how many aid projects end up benefitting the elite, not the poor; failing to resolve the underlying grievances or greed that often fuels the conflict.

Humanitarian interventions in areas affected by conflict lie on a spectrum from working ‘around war’, ‘in war’ and ‘on war’.

Working around war is perhaps the most common, where the conflict is treated as an ‘impediment or negative externality to be avoided’, and that the more development or aid that can be got round such barriers, the better the prognosis. This, as Ulvin, Anderson and Slim have pointed out can exacerbate the violence and prolong the conflict. Despite these insights, a narrow view of security by donors and institutional interest mean that this is often the most common approach.

Working in conflict means taking a proactive stance on mitigating the risk. This may mean working on low profile, quick impact initiatives rather than large scale infrastructural projects.

Working on war means trying to work with the dynamics of conflict to bring about structural changes and greater political inclusion in order support mediation, reconciliation and human rights. This often requires a broader and deeper set of skills and experiences ranging from political to education and technical than is traditionally available either in a traditional aid agency or a heritage conservation programme.

The R2P Cultural Heritage project represents a great opportunity for maintaining the momentum of the heritage stewardship movement, but going from policy to practice will be not be straightforward.


Nicholas Mellor, SkyviewsDjenne https://www.facebook.com/skyviewsdjenne ; and Caspar Worthington , the Silk Road Project http://www.thesilkroadexpedition.com/

From documentation to the stewardship of heritage – lessons from economists

In 1891 Flinders Petrie, an eminent archaeologist, travelled to the temple of Aten at Tell-el-Amarna in Egypt, supported by a team of local and British researchers. Following months of excavations they discovered a 300-square-foot New Kingdom (c. 1500 BC) painted pavement of garden and animals and hunting scenes.

Tell el Armana Temple, Egypt

Stephen Quirke’s book ‘Hidden Hands: Egyptian workforces in Petrie Excavation Archives’ is a reminder of the importance of the local people in these discoveries, and ensuring the opportunity for meticulous documentation by people such as Flinders Petrie who is widely seen as shaping Egyptian Archaeology.

Alas, in the years that followed inadequate protection from vandalism, a growing number of foreign tourists, and anger from local farmers around trespassing and the destruction of crops due to these tourists, led to the destruction of the site, which is today remembered thanks to Petrie’s documentation.

Stephen Quirke notes that ‘in practice archaeologists still pursue the past to the exclusion of the present inhabitants of the archaeological landscape. There is a threat with new technology that local people can become ever more remote from the new waves of discovery opening up from the likes of hyper spectral analysis and satellite imaging.

However satellite imagery has unlocked incredible powers of documentation, allowing people to see what is going on, anywhere in the world, in real time. But then again is a danger that such observational tools used by international experts can be seen as a source of power over local communities rather than a source of empowerment for the local people. It can lead to suspicion and further mistrust between the stakeholders aggravating the conflict. But in the stewardship of heritage stewardship politics, history, identity and economics are inextricably interwoven. All too often well intentioned international interventions are fraught with unintended consequences in the face of such complexity.

  1. F. Schumacher in ‘Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered’, highlighted the important of ensuring interventions are appropriate in scale and recognise the complexity and interdependence of the ‘ecosystem’ in which they act. Schumacher’s ideas were firmly grounded in his work in the field and understanding of different cultures. The foundations for Small is beautiful were laid whilst working in Burma as an economics consultant which led to his idea of ‘Buddhist economics’ drawing on the idea of balance and sustainability in an economy which needed to serve a wide range of stakeholders and value systems.

Our common heritage is the ultimate commons issue and as such, perhaps we can learn from the Nobel winning Economist, Elinor Ostrom in terms of the principles with which to guide any intervention.

Ostrom won her Nobel prize following years of extensive field research, investigating how communities have developed diverse institutional arrangements for managing their resources stocks, protecting commons and avoiding ecosystem collapse. Her work highlighted the idiosyncratic nature of the interactions between distinct communities and their commons, and these communities’ unique positions in being able to protect these commons.

Elinor Ostrom commented ‘There is no reason to believe that bureaucrats and politicians, no matter how well meaning, are better at solving problems than the people on the spot, who have the strongest incentive to get the solution right’.

Accepting the diversity of different commons, Ostrom found that there are similarities in the way the different communities that she investigated were stewards of their resources. Elinor Ostrom set out eight key principles for managing a commons in a way that is both sustainable:

  1. Define clear group boundaries around the community which is closest to the resource.
  2. Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.
  3. Ensure that the local community can participate in modifying the rules.
  4. Make sure that the rule-making rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.
  5. Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behaviour.
  6. Develop a system, carried out by community members, of sanctions for rule violators.
  7. Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution in the community.
  8. Governing the common resource can be done in layers, with direct governance coming from the community with the support of externals.

How would the story of Tell-el-Amarna have been different had the local communities been engaged in the management of the commons in the way that suits them…? Perhaps Olstrom’s rules can help inform the debate on heritage stewardship, reinforcing the case for empowering local communities to develop their own unique systems for the protection of distinct global commons.

Nicholas Mellor, Skyviews Djenne https://www.facebook.com/skyviewsdjenne ; and Caspar Worthington, the Silk Road Project http://www.thesilkroadexpedition.com/

The Destruction of Memory



In March 2016 , Tim Slade Launched his film ‘The Destruction of Memory’. It is about how culture along with citizens and other icons of neutrality such as aid workers have been swept up in the violence of war, extremism and intolerance and how the traditional badges of indemnity have proved impotent.

In 2008, Hugo Slim published his book ‘Killing Civilians: Method, Madness and Morality in War’. It documents how civilians suffer in war and why people decide that they should. Slim points out that civilian suffering in war is usually ‘deliberate and always has been. Massacres, rape, displacement, famine and disease are usually designed. They are policies in war. In meetings or on mobile phones, political and military leaders decide that civilians are appropriate or inevitable targets. The principle that unarmed and innocent people should be protected in war is an ancient, precious but fragile idea. Today, the principle of civilian immunity is enshrined in modern international law and cherished by many. But, in practice, leaders in most wars reject the principle.’

Earlier this week the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, addressed the UN Security Council to deplore continuing violence against healthcare in conflict. He called for greater action by states in its legislation, to collect data on this problem, and to hold perpetrators of violence against healthcare to account.

In his film, The Destruction of Memory, Tim Slade documents how buildings and icons of culture and faith suffer in war and why people decide that they should. Over the past century, cultural destruction has wrought catastrophic results across the globe. This has often been in spite of efforts by the international community to protect them.

Following the Second World War, UNESCO adopted the Hague Convention (1954) which created rules to protect cultural goods during armed conflict. The Blue Shield is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. It is the protective emblem that marks cultural sites to give them protection from attack in the event of armed conflict; although as Hugo Slim has pointed out for citizens, such resolutions do not necessarily provide any indemnity from violence.

Initiatives such as the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) supported by the Arcadia Foundation are endeavouring to map and monitor sites using satellite imagery. But as Tim Slade points out in his film, the war against culture seems to be escalating. In Syria and Iraq, the ‘cradle of civilization’, millennia of culture are being destroyed.

The push to protect, salvage and rebuild has moved in step with the destruction. Legislation and policy have played a role. In the first case of its kind Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi was charged at the International Criminal Court in August 2016 with war crimes against a World Heritage site during the time that he headed the ‘moral police’ of the jihadist rebel group Ansar Dine. He has since been sentenced to 9 years imprisonment. (27 September 2016)

Heritage heroes have fought back, risking and losing their lives to protect not just other human beings, but our cultural identity – to save the record of who we are. Building on the book ‘The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War’ by Robert Bevan, Tim Slade’s film The Destruction of Memory tells the whole story – looking not just at the ongoing actions of Daesh (ISIS) and at other contemporary situations, but revealing the decisions of the past that allowed the issue to remain hidden in the shadows for so many years.

‘Ideological Extremism and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage: The Traditional Muslim Response’ by Michael Sugich

Micheal Sugich’s paper on cultural destruction outlines the biggest issues facing at-risk sites like the Djenné Mosque.  From his perspective, ‘the destruction of  our cultural heritage is not from an external enemy but from a enemy within’ (1).

Please read his 7 page paper below.

Ideological Extremism and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage


Hardened mud: the staying power of a Djenné icon

 Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 20.53.31

Djenné Mosque’s iconic mud brick ramparts and minarets contribute to its fame across the world. The largest building of its kind, the mosque seemingly come to define the historic architecture of Mali and across North Africa.

Yet, despite its fame, the building can contribute its enduring legacy to the masons of Djenné who, with the help of the entire community, have replastered the building every year for generations.

Trevor H. J. Marchand’s paper on the Djenné annual replastering festival highlights the importance of this community gathering. Here, he writes on the way in which the mosque has endured times of conflict, and how this legacy can preserved.

Read an excerpt here:

The Djenné Mosque: World Heritage and Social Renewal in a West African Town

Protecting cultural heritage in conflict zones

Visiting Chatham House at the end of last year, they had just finished a meeting on Culture on the Frontline: Protecting Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones. It was a reminder both the destruction I witnessed in Libya. Irina Bokova is Director General of UNESCO was highlighting how Extremists are making Cultural Heritage their new target.


Amidst the litany of violence and destruction there is one great success story that inspires and that is the rebuilding of the bridge of Mostar.5-jpg After its destruction during the Bosnia conflict, the bridge was rebuilt and has even become listed by the World Heritage Committee even though it is no longer authentic. But in the face of new stories of destruction it is a symbol of hope and shows how cultural icons have a role to play in the process of reconciliation and renewal of a sense of common heritage and interdependency.

As Dr Agnieszka Jachec-Neale wrote on the 2 September in an article ‘Protecting Cultural Heritage After Palmyra


 See https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/protecting-cultural-heritage-after-palmyra

 ‘Above all, it must never be forgotten that, as is written outside the National Museum of Afghanistan, ‘a nation stays alive when its culture stays alive’. This is in large part of what made the destruction of Palmyra so devastating for Syrians.

What makes her words particularly poignant are that I was in Kabul when the National Museum of Afghanistan found itself literally becoming the front line in the siege of the city. It was boarded up, but shell holes had created ways into its passages, and slipping inside the museum with my colleague Nick Snelling we found ancient stone Buddha statues sitting calmly beneath a cloak of dust – serene amid the heat, darkness and suffering that was all around.

Dr Agnieszka Jachec-Neale continued ‘Cultural heritage has a crucial role to play in reconciliation and unification of the nation in the aftermath of conflict and in the emotional survival of people during it – and it’s the world’s responsibility to preserve it.’

So what needs to be done?  Each conflict throws up its challenges, and sometimes they lead to new measures. The Second World War caused such widespread destruction to cultural property, that afterwards the international community came together in 1954 and produced The Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. International law and import / export controls all help. But they are not enough.

The challenge is not just the destruction of monuments on ideological grounds, but also the looting that often occurs, and the subsequent trading in so-called ‘blood antiquities’. As Ziad Rajab, custodian of the Tareq Rajab Museum in Kuwait commented “If you loot from an archaeological site, you have destroyed it. The knowledge that comes with how an object was found, what it was found with, where it was found. You have destroyed it. You’ve lost all the knowledge.”

Professor Peter Stone , Head of Newcastle University’s School of Arts and Cultures highlights how complex the problem is “The majority of those are looting on the basis they need money because their normal source of income has dried up. They then sell to dealers who come around to villages and those dealers are usually semi-locals, similar nationalities, and those dealers will get the stuff out to a number of centres in the vicinity,”

The challenge therefore is how to work with communities so that they have a better appreciation of their cultural assets – which they can be treasured and be seen as common heritage.  Young people have a greater opportunity to recognise this and promote their heritage through social media. Through digital media heritage sites can be brought alive in ways we could hardly imagine a decade ago.