A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Teaching troops about cultural heritage
I have spoken of the need to protect ancient sites, museums, and antiquities in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan in earlier columns (archive.archaeology.org/iraq and archive.archaeology.org/afghanistan), and during the past year the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has begun an innovative program to help educate troops soon to be sent to those countries. Conceived by AIA vice president C. Brian Rose, the program sends experienced lecturers to military bases to teach the basics of Middle Eastern archaeology and the importance of protecting the evidence of past cultures. The class, taken by both officers and enlisted men and women, is mandatory.
The effort is a supplement to the AIA's long-standing, nationwide lecture program in which scholars in archaeology and related fields present the latest research and developments to more than 102 local societies in the U.S. and Canada. The lectures for the troops focus specifically on the areas where military personnel will be deployed and on the specific sites, monuments, museums, and artifacts that they might be called upon to protect. The current lectures, funded in part by the Packard Humanities Institute, emphasize Mesopotamia's role in the development of writing, schools, libraries, law codes, calendars, and astronomy, as well as connections with familiar biblical figures such as Abraham and Daniel and ancient sites such as Ur and Babylon. Afghanistan's position as a crossroads of ancient civilizations and the route of Alexander the Great through the region are also discussed. Troops also learn about basic archaeological techniques, the importance of preserving context, the necessity of working with archaeologists and conservators, and how to protect sites against looters.
The first series of lectures was given at the Marine Corps base at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, and there are plans to expand the program to other bases and services in the near future. "Many of the officers have M.A. degrees; some are reservists and high-school history teachers," says Rose, who delivered the inaugural lectures last spring. "They care a great deal about the history of the areas in which they serve; some of them have actually lived in or near Babylon on earlier tours of duty. All of us have been struck by their thirst for knowledge during and after our lectures."
Many have helped get this program up and running, including Col. Joseph Lydon, Col. Paul Hopper, and Lt. Col. Richard Allen at Camp LeJeune. U.S. Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, who was instrumental in securing the return of many antiquities stolen from the Iraq Museum, did much to smooth the way. "When it comes to clearing a building, neutralizing a land mine, or making a neighborhood safe for children, we know what to do," says Bogdanos. "When it comes to protecting a country's cultural heritage, we are just as eager to do the right thing--we just don't always know the best way to do it. This is where Brian Rose's groundbreaking program will pay dividends for generations."
Jane C. Waldbaum is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.