Skip to Main Content

MEMS Colloquium Lecture: ISIS and Cultural Cleansing

Saving the Ancient and Medieval Treasures of Syria and Iraq

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Library and Gallery, Albin O. Kuhn

Michael D. Danti, Assistant Professor of Archaeology, Boston University; Consulting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania Museum; and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London

Syria and Iraq are facing the worst cultural heritage crisis since the Second World War. Michael Danti's talk will address one of the greatest challenges: the cultural cleansing perpetrated by the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS) and the work of the American Schools of Oriental Research to safeguard cultural assets. 

The American Schools of Oriental Research Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR CHI) work with Syrians and Iraqis to safeguard cultural sites and objects from neglect, damage, destruction, and theft as part of a program developed with the U.S. Department of State. Among the many atrocities perpetrated by ISIS is the deliberate destructions of historic mosques, churches, schools, monasteries, and cemeteries, as well as numerous famous monuments at archaeological sites such as Palmyra, Nimrud, Nineveh, Hatra, and the Old City of Mosul. ISIS brazenly commits these war crimes to advance its radical ideology and gain global media exposure. At the same time, the organization funds its terrorist activities through the looting of cultural property from archaeological sites, museums, libraries, and private collections. Irreplaceable ancient and medieval heritage, embedded in the urban fabric and daily life of modern communities, is endangered as extremists erase cultural memory, manipulate cultural identity, and eliminate cultural diversity. 

Michael D. Danti is an archaeologist who specializes in the ancient Near East. His interests center on the emergence of complex societies, agropastoral economies, tribe-state relations and pastoral nomadic societies. He directs archaeological projects in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria, focusing on the Bronze and Iron Ages. From 1991 to 2010, Dr. Danti’s research focused on the Early Bronze Age site of Tell es-Sweyhat near Raqqa and Aleppo on the Euphrates River. He is a principal investigator for the American Schools of Oriental Research's Cultural Heritage Initiatives (ASOR CHI). ASOR is an international, collaborative effort to respond to the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and northern Iraq. Groups of concerned citizens in Syria and Iraq have been taking action, and ASOR's international team has formed alliances and partnerships with these groups.

Sponsored by the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Program, the Dresher Center for the Humanities, the Ancient Studies Department, the Visual Arts Department, and the Political Science Department