A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A little-known U.S. program supports cultural heritage abroad.
What do the Mongolian Deer Stone Project, excavations at Stobi in Macedonia, and the Guangxi Hepu Han Dynasty Tomb Museum in China's Guangxi Province have in common? All are recipients of support from the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation.
Established by Congress in 2001 and administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. State Department, the Ambassador's Fund provides modest financial support for archaeological, conservation, and ethnographic projects in countries around the world. The Senate Report on the bill creating the program stated that cultural preservation "offers an opportunity to show a different American face to other countries, one that is noncommercial, nonpolitical, and nonmilitary."
In the four years since its inception, the fund has supported such diverse undertakings as consolidation of the citadel gateway at Gordion in Turkey; preservation of sites on Kenya's Swahili Coast; construction of critically needed climate-controlled storage space at the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala City; remote sensing in Egypt to detect new sites and monitor threatened ones; conservation of the medieval castle in Gondar, Ethiopia; preservation of the ruins of Quitoloma in Ecuador as well as training of local community leaders and tour operators to protect the site and manage visitors; and the digitization of audio-visual recordings of archaeological sites in India's National Audio-Visual Archive. According to the fund's annual report, its total spending in 2002 amounted to $1 million divided among 51 projects.
Proposals are brought forward by the U.S. ambassador in an eligible country, often working in partnership with the country's ministry of culture or local organizations. In the Deer Stone Project, for example, $30,000 was awarded to support scientists from Mongolia and the Smithsonian Institution investigating 3,000-year-old carved slabs, known from one of the common motifs as deer stones. The project's ultimate goal is to assist Mongolians in shaping social and economic policies that are sensitive to cultural heritage.
Other federal agencies offer funding to cultural heritage, sometimes on a much larger scale. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), for example, supported creation of an archaeology department at the University of Asmara in Eritrea. In partnership with the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman and other groups, it has also funded several aspects of the ongoing excavation and site presentation at Petra and at other sites in Jordan. But USAID supports many other kinds of programs too, most unrelated to archaeology or heritage protection. The Ambassador's Fund is the only U.S. program to provide direct support for cultural heritage preservation. As such, it deserves praise from the archaeological community and all who care about preserving our global cultural heritage. More information on the Ambassador's Fund may be found at exchanges.state.gov/culprop/afcp.
After this column had gone to press, ARCHAEOLOGY learned that the amount allocated to the Ambassador's Fund in the current Appropriations bill has been increased to $2.5 million. While that is less than the $4 million that had been in the Senate version, it represents a doubling of funds earmarked for this important program.
Jane C. Waldbaum is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.