Lost Culture

“Why Preserving Pakistan’s Cultural Heritage Should Matter to the United States”

“Why Preserving Pakistan’s Cultural Heritage Should Matter to the United States”

by Rick Olson via “Huffington Post

We walked beside the now dusty wash that once contained the mighty but ever shifting Indus River, puzzling out the names of long-deceased members of royal dynasties now barely remembered. I was visiting the necropolis of Makli Hills with Yasmeen Lari, a conservation architect and herself a national treasure of Pakistan. The monuments at Makli chart the history of Islam in Sindh province, one of the cradles of civilization, dominated by the alluvial plain of the Indus, from which Sindh gets its name. I was there to announce that the U.S. Government is helping to conserve two of its most magnificent monuments.

ambassador rick olson

As the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, I live in a country facing political, military, and humanitarian challenges on many fronts. One front that has not received sufficient attention in Western media is the war on cultural heritage and how this matters to the people of Pakistan.

One of the ways in which ISIL has consolidated a reign of terror in Iraq and Syria is by erasing any heritage of religious diversity. Their atrocities are not confined to military battlefields. Groups like ISIS have another important ideological objective: they are threatened by the existence of a rich cultural heritage and a history of pluralism and tolerance. They seek to destroy it.

***

Islam came to Sindh in 711 c.e. via the invasion led by Muhammad bin Qasim. And its dominance on the culture was fixed by the Sufi scholars who accompanied the central Asian invaders of the 16th century. The history of this long conversion is etched in the stone of tombs at Makli Hills. The oldest ones, at the north, show a robust Hindu influence, including elaborate rosettes, with the inscriptions written in the austere Kufic script of early Islam. The later tombs, to the south, become more Persianate, with the slanting script replacing the more linear Arabic and more delicate floral and venial depictions. These ancient monuments enrich and inform today’s Pakistan and connect us to our cultural origins.

Wind and sun have taken a severe toll on the monuments, as has vandalism and looting, all perhaps part of the toll that more than a decade of fighting terrorism has inflicted on Pakistan. Treasures of Moghul artistry lie scattered and broken on the ground. Some of the elaborate sepulchers have lost their foundations and are visibly splitting apart. Even the large tombs that are structurally intact have lost their turquoise tiled roofs and cladding and now reveal their baked brick skeletons. . . . .

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A million rare documents damaged in Moscow library blaze

That’s always a tragedy, the loss of books/written works is just sad 😦 **DB

“A million rare documents damaged in Moscow library blaze”

via “AFP

Moscow (AFP) – A fire that ripped through one of Russia’s largest university libraries is believed to have damaged over one million historic documents, with some describing the fire as a cultural “Chernobyl.”

The blaze, which started Friday and was still not completely out on Saturday evening, ravaged 2,000 square metres (21,500 square feet) of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (INION) in Moscow, which was created in 1918 and holds 10 million documents with some dating back to the 16th century.

“It’s a major loss for science. This is the largest collection of its kind in the world, probably equivalent to the (United States) Library of Congress,” Vladimir Fortov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences was quoted as saying by Russia press agencies.

“One can find documents there that are impossible to find elsewhere, all the social sciences use this library. What has happened here is reminiscent of Chernobyl,” he said referring to the 1986 nuclear catastrophe.

Fortov said about 15 percent of the collection had been damaged at the library, which includes one of the world’s richest collections of Slavic language works, but also documents from Britain, Italy and the US.

Fortov told Kommersant FM radio that much of the damage was caused by water from the firefighting operations.

No one was injured in the inferno.

The fire broke out on Friday evening on the library’s second floor and continued burning all day Saturday despite 200 firefighters’ efforts to douse the blaze.

Library authorities initially said the documents were not in danger, but once the fire caused 1,000 square metres of the roof to collapse they were less certain about the risk to the collection.

A rescue service source told state-run RIA Novosti news agency it was impossible to remove the books because of the intense heat in the building.

According to Russian media, investigators looking into the cause of the blaze suspect an electrical short-circuit was to blame.

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Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

Islamic State Raids Biblical City of Ninevah, Sells Ancient Treasures For Millions

by Thomas D. Williams via “Breitbart

The sale of archaeological treasures from the Biblical city of Nineveh and the surrounding territory is becoming one of the main sources of funding of the Islamic State in Kurdistan as well as in Syria, according to reports by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

A USB stick recovered from an Islamic State militant by Iraqi intelligence in August documents the value of revenues on the black market at $32 million. Among the items for sale: hundreds of headstones, inscriptions, mosaics, and adornments.

According to Qais Hussein Rasheed, head of the state-run Museums Department in Iraq, black market dealers are entering areas under Islamic State control to buy these items.

In their zeal to destroy what they consider to be heresy, Islamic State militants have demolished many artifacts but they are cashing in at the same time, extracting valuable relics to sell on the international black market.

Profiting from religious artifacts represents a curious double game. On the one hand, the precepts of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist Islamic sect, require the destruction of every object of worship not directed to Allah. This has justified the demolition of churches, mosques, and tombs, and has been carried out with maximum media exposure.

On the other hand—this time without advertising it—the same IS leaders are now either selling artifacts directly or granting access to occupied archeological zones to teams of professional looters. They then split the revenues from the plunder according to the Islamic law of Khums: a fifth of the spoils must be paid to God, ie, the Islamic state.

The Turkish border is only a few hours away with Western brokers waiting to transfer the artifacts to the major black art markets: London, New York, and Tokyo. . . . .

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“Archaeologists Train “Monuments Men” to Save Syria’s Past”

“Archaeologists Train “Monuments Men” to Save Syria’s Past”

by Andrew Curry via “National Geographic

Amid the devastation and danger of civil war, Syrian archaeologists and activists are risking their lives in the battle against looting. . . .

Photo of Free Syrian Army fighters walking with their weapons in the Umayyad mosque of Old Aleppo.

The ancient city of Dura-Europos sits on a bluff above the Tigris River a few miles from Syria’s border with Iraq, its mud-brick walls facing a bleak expanse of desert. Just a year ago the city’s precise grid of streets—laid down by Greek and Roman residents 2,000 years ago—was largely intact. Temples, houses, and a substantial Roman outpost were preserved for centuries by the desert sands.

“It stood out for its remarkable preservation,” saysSimon James, an archaeologist at the U.K.’s University of Leicester who spent years studying the site’s Roman garrison. “Until now.” (See before and after pictures of archaeological site looting.)

Satellite images of the site released by the U.S. State Department in June show a shocking picture of devastation. In the past year, as fighting continued to rage between the government of President Bashar al Assad’s troops and rebels—including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria—the site has been ravaged by industrial-scale looting.

Photo of the Umayyad Mosque of Aleppo in 2009.

Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque is seen here in 2009, before being damaged in the civil unrest.
PHOTOGRAPH BY BRYAN DENTON, CORBIS

“It’s a lunar landscape of spoil heaps,” says James. “Obviously, the looters were bankrolled to a massive extent to do something like this.”

It may be too late to save Dura-Europos, but archaeologists and activists are scrambling to preserve what’s left of Syria’s rich history, which stretches back more than 10,000 years. The efforts are focused on training locals to save ancient monuments and museum collections in the midst of a war zone.

Organizations including the University of Pennsylvania’s Cultural Heritage Center, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and Heritage for Peace, a network of volunteers and activists based in Spain, have been holding workshops to train Syrian archaeologists, curators, and activists in “first aid for objects and sites,” says Emma Cunliffe, a consultant specializing in heritage protection during conflicts.  . . .”

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4,000-Year-Old Burial with Chariots Discovered in South Caucasus

4,000-Year-Old Burial with Chariots Discovered in South Caucasus

by Owen  Jarus via “Yahoo!News

4,000-Year-Old Burial with Chariots Discovered in South Caucasus

An ancient burial containing chariots, gold artifacts and possible human sacrifices has been discovered by archaeologists in the country of Georgia, in the south Caucasus. (more…)