I have been interested in the preservation of antiquities and objects of cultural heritage for years but the recent events in the Middle East, particularly regarding ISIS in Syria, have made me more impassioned and given me a great sense of urgency. After three summers of excavation in a burial ground in Southern Israel, my undergraduate thesis topic centered upon post-burial manipulation of the corpse in archaeological settings. My research made me fascinated by the study of modern looting, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Cultural Heritage Center internship appealed to me because of my belief in the importance of conservation of archeological sites and antiquities, my background in archaeological fieldwork, my thesis research, and my ultimate goal of earning a law degree and a Master’s degree in Cultural Heritage and Middle Eastern archaeology.
This summer, I assisted in the compilation of a dataset of recorded instances of damage to cultural heritage sites in Syria from 2011 to 2014. I studied maps of war-torn areas, examined the remains of churches and mosques, and began to develop an understanding of the demographic breakdown of Syria. This research aided the CCRN’s ultimate goal of understanding how the targeting of different cultural heritage symbols are used to claim land; perpetrate ideas and violence; and erase the heritage, and existence, of communities. It was so exciting to be part of a project that will change the way we consider and confront the destruction of cultural heritage. The importance of this research cannot be understated in how it will contribute to an understanding of the importance of heritage sites for a community’s identity and will ultimately serve to protect the world’s cultural relics.