War and Cultural Heritage

In a recent article in the Conversation, Ian Kuijt, Pavio Shydiovskyi, and William Donaruma document the on-going destruction of cultural heritage in Ukraine as the result of the Russian invasion. The two archaeologists and filmmaker tell a story of irretrievable and incalculable loss. Unfortunately, this is an old story, spanning millennia of war and conquest. It is often said that history is told by the victors. But of all disciplines, archaeology best holds out the hope that the stories of others—the poor, the powerless, and the victims—can also be told. To do so, the archaeologists and cultural historians of today must safeguard the remnants of the past. At the same time, we must speak out forcefully against indiscriminate, yet preventable, destruction. We must not be afraid to hold combatants accountable when they target heritage to erase their enemies and to rewrite history. We must heed the words Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, issued a few days before D-Day: “Shortly we will be fighting our way across the Continent of Europe in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve. It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols whenever possible.” I want to thank our colleagues who, often at great personal jeopardy, are doing all they can in this and other conflicts to protect archaeological resources so that future generations can appreciate their heritage and have their chance to bring the light of evidence to bear on the claims of the victors.

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