ISIS has left a wake of destruction in Iraq and Syria, destroying ancient cultural artifacts in Mosul Museum, historic sites such as Nimrud, and many others. The group recently took control of Palmyra, one of the most beautiful and important sites in the Middle East–and so more destruction might be imminent. In response, some archaeologists are working to digitally preserve the region’s cultural heritage to at least have a record of what remains. But the United Kingdom is looking into taking even more proactive measures.
U.K. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale recently announced the creation of a “cultural protection fund” that will be used to help preserve cultural heritage in conflict zones as well as recover artifacts that are actively under threat. It’s unclear what role the military will play in securing archaeological sites or protecting archaeologists working in the conflict zone.
“While the U.K.’s priority will continue to be the human cost of these horrific conflicts, the U.K. must also do what we can to prevent any further cultural destruction,” said Whittingdale in a statement. “The loss of a country’s heritage threatens its very identity.”
According to reports, the money will be used to both assess damage at already looted sites and evaluate possibilities for recovery as well as salvage artifacts that have yet to be damaged by ISIS but could be threatened in the future. Whittingdale announced the the fund will be set up and used in consultation with the United Nations Education Science and Cultural Organization and Red Cross. Later this year, he will convene a summit of those organizations as well as leaders of British cultural institutions such as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
“The knowledge and expertise of the experts in our cultural institutions makes us uniquely qualified to help,” said Whittingdale. “I believe that the U.K. therefore has a vital responsibility to support cultural protection overseas.”
As part of its efforts at cultural preservation, Whittingdale says that the U.K. will finally ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property. The convention requires signatories to protect cultural property during times of war and was created as a response to the widespread theft and destruction of property in World War II. Although well over 100 states have ratified the convention, including the United States, the U.K. had not thus far been one of them.
“The recent cultural destruction in Syria and Iraq has been devastating,” said Whittingdale. “These countries contain some of the world’s most important historical monuments and artefacts which are now at risk as a result of the ongoing conflict. ”