World 101: Antiquities

The Destruction of Antiquities and Art as Cultural Heritage


Co-hosts Sandra Svoboda and Saeed Khan are joined by a panel of guests including Wayne State University Associate Professor of Classical Languages, Literature, and Cultures Jennifer Sheridan Moss, Wayne State University Professor of Art and Art History Jefferey Abt and Curator of Near Eastern Archaeology in the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology and Professor at the University of Michigan’s department of Anthropology Henry Wright to discuss the destruction of ancient art and museums in the ongoing struggle in the middle east.

ISIS and the fighting in the middle east has already led to the destruction of many historical sites and locations, but a new video surfaced showing the militants directly destroying the statues and larger works of art in a captured museum. “cultural heritage belongs to all of us,” states Moss. The panel notes that the destruction of these artifacts is sorrowful because it removes visual and cultural history from the human record because these works cannot be truly recreated or replaced even with modern technology.

Moss brings up that it isn’t just plain vandalism though. These antiquities are invaluable as far as monetary and cultural values go, but their importance goes beyond those because they also represent cultures and societies that have had an influence on a major part of the shared human history.  ISIS is targeting monuments and achievements of an ancient society because it represents the people who made them. In a way they’re directly attacking a time and people from the past and whitewashing cultural values and proof of historical societies.

They also touch upon the role of governments and the rightful place of artifacts, noting that in some situations the destruction is a price for progress while at other times governments are able to preserve artifacts by removing them. Abt mentions that “when these objects are taken out of their context it simply not the same, you have to see the landscape and see how they resided.” Museums offer a learning experience and make artifacts accessible to a more general audience by removing the art from its original context and environment, but on the other hand they also can save artifacts from being destroyed by their natural environments and keep them in tact for future study. Surely finding a way to both protect and preserve but also exhibit the history of these artifacts will always be a struggle for art historians as well as museums.