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Archaeologists Teaching US Soldiers the Importance of Historical Sites


28 April 2006




LONDON, (CAIS) -- US Soldiers will soon be learning how to prevent damage to important archaeological sites through training coordinated at Fort Drum.

Professor Roger Ulrich of Dartmouth College is preparing to start work on training materials aimed at helping troops in invaded Iraq and Afghanistan prevent damage to sites with significant historical value. Ulrich's research is being coordinated at Fort Drum, where a group of civilians engage in “Cultural Resource Management," which informs troops how to avoid damaging historical monuments on post during training.

Dr. Laurie Rush, one the program's directors and cultural resources program manager for Fort Drum initially approached Ulrich about leading a group of student researchers to develop guidelines for the military.

The move towards developing guidelines for preserving historically significant sites comes as a US Defence Department response to the outcry among International academics against the damage US troops are currently causing in the Middle East. The two most recently reported incidents include the sacking of the National Museum in Baghdad and the reported damage of a Babylon archaeological site. The 2,000 US troops who were deployed there did immense damage as they set up camp amidst the ruins of old temples. A helicopter pad was constructed at the site. The vibration from landings led the roof of one building to collapse. The soldiers also filled their sandbags with archaeological artefacts, just because they were lying around and easy to pick up.

The other most important site in Iraq has also suffered damage at the hands of the US military, the Arch of Ctesiphon. The 99-foot-high arch of a Sasanian palace built in the 4th century and remodelled by the reformist King of Kings Chosroes I (Anushak Ruwan) in the 6th century. The arch is the largest single span vault of unreinforced brickwork in the world and is one of its historical wonders. During World War II British troops fighting the Ottomans at Kut were told that the arch was not to be shelled even if the Turks were using the ruins of the palace as a firing or observation post. The arch was damaged in the 1991 Persian-Gulf war by US bombing. By the time the US resumed all-out war on Iraq in 2003 the state of the arch seems to have deteriorated seriously, almost certainly due to neglect. 

In April 2003, a briefing officer of US-allied Australian forces said that "the arch is in such poor condition that even a surgical strike against an individual vehicle halted beneath the arch could cause it to fall because of the shock waves from an explosion." UNESCO has proposed a plan to stabilise the site but it has been able to implement this plan due to the lack of security in the country caused by invasion.

"There are some pretty obvious measures you can take," Ulrich said. "A classic example would be filling sandbags. If you're digging in the desert and scooping up shards of pottery and cuneiform tablets, you should probably dig somewhere else."

Ulrich hopes to begin work on the project this summer and continue it into the fall, and the US Defence Department hopes to complete work on the materials approximately one year from now. The materials will include a general instruction manual, 100,000 packs of playing cards carrying cultural and historical information and 50,000 laminated sheets for troops in the field to help them recognize and protect historically sensitive areas.

However, this is probably another whitewash by US officials to keep the international community at ease, since Ulrich is a specialist in Greek and Roman archaeology, and as he claims himself, he hopes to rely on his Greco-Roman students' research to supplement his own knowledge!





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