New report stresses urgency of protecting the Arctic


A recent report just published earlier this month (April 2017), calls for urgent need for the protection of The Arctic Ocean. According to experts, due to the melting sea ice in the Arctic ocean, previously inaccessible areas are opening up to activities such as shipping, bottom trawl fishing and oil exploration. According to a recent scientific report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in partnership with the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, the experts identify seven globally significant marine sites in the Arctic Ocean that warrant protection and could potentially qualify for World Heritage status. The Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, Carl Gustaf Lundin said recently that the Arctic Ocean plays a crucial role in shaping global climate and hosts a diverse range of species.
Currently, the climate change is posing a serious threat to the Arctic region, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The Arctic Ocean stretches across the northern most side of the planet, spanning 14 million square kilometers. Environmentalists have reported that the arctic is home to wildlife found nowhere else on the planet, including bowhead whales, narwhals and walruses. As one of the most unspoiled oceans on Earth, it provides critical habitat for threatened species, such as polar bears and Atlantic puffins, both assessed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The sites identified in the report that could potentially qualify for World Heritage status include: the Remnant Multi-Year Sea Ice and  Northeast Water Polynya Ecoregion, which boasts the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic and may give polar bears the greatest chance of survival through the 21st century; the Bering Strait Ecoregion, one of the world’s great migration corridors for millions of seabirds and marine mammals; the Northern Baffin Bay Ecoregion, which supports the largest aggregation of a single species of seabirds, the little auk; the Scoresby Sound Polynya Ecoregion, the world’s largest fjord system which supports the Critically Endangered Spitsbergen stock of bowhead whale; the High Arctic Archipelagos, which support 85% of the world’s population of ivory gulls; Disko Bay and Store Hellefiskebanke Ecoregion, a critical winter habitat for the West Greenland walrus and hundreds of thousands of king eiders; and the Great Siberian Polynya, where the seasonal formation and melting of ice influences oceanic processes on a large scale. 

Tourists Vandalizes the Colosseum


When you visit Rome, the very first place on your list of World Heritage places to see, is of course the Colosseum. But the 2,000-year-old amphitheater is a magnet for tourists and vandals alike. It has recently been reported that the police in Rome have ticketed yet another tourist for vandalizing the Colosseum.

This recent incident involves an Ecuadorian visitor who decided that it was a good idea to carve the names of his wife and child onto the ancient site, as reported by the Associated Press. An official tour guide for the Colosseum found the defacement in progress and reported it to the local authorities. Fines for this type of vandalism have ranged, carrying up to a 20,000 euro fine, or approximately $21,000, according to AP. The tourist will have his day in court and a judge has will decide what the fine will be.
The Colosseum is one of the most-visited attractions in the world, and it has been reported that the World Heritage site usually welcomes nearly 7 million people annually. Colosseum is an ancient Roman amphitheater that served as a center of entertainment starting in the first century according to experts. Local residents would come to the Colosseum to watch gladiators fight each other or wild animals to the death. The 2,000-year history of this structure, and in particular its violent displays, has long drawn people from around the world who want to learn about life under ancient Roman rule.

It has also been reported that just a couple of months ago, in February a French tourist was arrested for carving her name into the Colosseum using an ancient coin she found. Two Brazilian men attempted to break into the Colosseum just one month earlier, with one man falling 13-feet and breaking his hip. All of these incidents come after the Colosseum recently opened its doors again after a three year renovation.

Archeologists discover statue in Cairo slum


Archaeologists in Egypt discovered a massive statue in a Cairo slum earlier this month as reported by a number of news outlets.  The experts believe that the statute may be of Ramses II, one of the ancient Egypt’s most famous and longest ruling pharaohs.

As reported a large portion of the head of the statute was pulled from mud and groundwater by a bulldozer was around eight meters (26 feet) high.  The large portion of the head which was removed from the ground was near a street market in the slums of Cairo.  However, the experts believe that it will be very difficult to excavate the area further as there are structures and buildings where people live.

The team of German-Egyptian archaeologists have said that this is an impressive find.  Ramses II, who took the throne in his early 20s as the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty, ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. He is credited with expanding ancient Egypt’s reach as far as modern Syria to the east and modern Sudan to the south. The expansion earned him the title “Ramses the Great.”   Historians believe that Ramses II ruled Egypt for 60 years and besides his military exploits is known for being a great builder whose image can be seen at a string of sites across the country. Massive statues of the warrior-king can be viewed in Luxor, and his most famous monument is in Abu Simbel, near Sudan.

In November last year, Egyptian archeologists discovered a village and cemetery used by officials tasked with building royal tombs. The findings at the site some 250 miles (390 kilometers) south of Cairo included 15 large tombs dating back to the Early Dynastic Period, more than 4,500 years ago.

Ancient Treasures Recovered by Europol


Late last month (January 2017) it was announced that collaboration between police from 18 countries had led to recovery of 3,561 stolen ancient artifacts. The Europol or the European Police Agency also reported that they arrested more than 75 people in the process as reported by the Guardian newspaper and other news outlets.

The items recovered included a marble Ottoman tombstone, a post-Byzantine icon depicting Saint George and hundreds of coins. The operation which was named Pandora took place in October and November, 2016. A major part of the operation was led by Spanish and Cypriot police who carried out checks on more than 48,500 people, about 50 ships and more than 29,000 vehicles. It has been reported that approximately 500 objects were uncovered in Murcia, south-eastern Spain, including 19 coins that had been stolen from an Archaeological Museum in 2014. In Cyprus, 40 ancient objects were found at the post office in Larnaca, near the island’s main airport. It is believed that in addition to airports, post – offices and ships, police also searched internet sites, and art galleries for information and posts.

The officials have said that they are unable to put a total value on the total number of artifacts found, as experts are still going through the process of appraising everything. However, it is quite obvious that many of the retrieved artifacts are of great cultural importance to Syria where most of these items were stolen from. These artifacts were looted in Syria by the Islamist terrorists and many were going to be sold in London and other major cities and to private collectors. The police and experts believe that many relics and artifacts from the ruins of Palmyra and Nimrud as well as other heritage sites are still being smuggled and sold in private global markets and even in British shops.

Stolen part of sarcophagus to be repatriated


A part of a marble sarcophagus that was stolen in 1988 and was found and confiscated from a gallery in Manhattan, New York, where it was displayed will return to Greece, the District Attorney’s office announced on Friday.

The sarcophagus dates back to 200 AD and depicts a battle between Greek and Trojan fighters and it was smuggled abroad and transported through Europe before finally ending up in New York.

The official repatriation ceremony as well as the relevant protocol took place in the office of District Attorney of Manhattan Cyrus Vance Junior.

The DA’s office went into a gallery in Midtown Manhattan and seized the fragment – which was on display as a centerpiece – while, according to reports, once presented with evidence that it had been stolen, the Manhattan-based gallery handed the item over willingly.

According to, the Manhattan DA’s office has recovered and returned several ancient artifacts as part of criminal investigations and prosecutions

Destruction of Tetrapylon, Roman Theatre in Palmyra


Only after a few short months and the major announcement that Palmyra had been freed from the control of Islamic terrorists, the group has returned to cause more destruction.

It was only in May 2016, when Russia marked the capture of Palmyra from Islamic terrorists by sending the Mariinsky Theatre to perform a surprise concert, highlighting the Kremlin’s role in winning back the city. The concert as reported by Russian news agencies was held just over a month after Russian air strikes helped push Islamic militants out of Palmyra. However, it is not clear how and why the Russian forces and the Syrian government has now lost the control of the city and the unique heritage site. According to Reuters, the Syrian Government lost control of Palmyra to Islamic State in December, the second time the jihadist group had overrun the UNESCO world heritage site in the six-year-long Syrian conflict. It is believed that Islamic Terrorists came back into Palmyra again in December when the Syrian army and its allies were focused on capturing the city of Aleppo from the rebel opposition groups against Assad government. It has been reported that the destruction took place sometime between December 26 and January 10 as reported by the Reuters and, according to the satellite imagery of the site.

Islamic Terrorists had previously captured Palmyra in 2015. They held the city for 10 months until Syrian Government forces backed by Russian air power managed to drive them out in March 2017. During its previous spell in control of Palmyra, Islamic State destroyed other monuments there, including its 1,800-year-old monumental arch.

UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said in a recent statement that the destruction constituted “a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity” as stated on the UNESCO site on January 20th, 2017.

Discovery of Bronze Age City in Iraq


bronzeEarlier this month a team of archaeologists from the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies (IANES) at the University of Tübingen announced that they have uncovered a large Bronze Age city not far from the town of Dohuk in northern Iraq.

The team reported that the excavation work has shown that the settlement, which is now home to the small Kurdish village of Bassetki in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan, was established in about 3000 BC and was able to flourish for more than 1200 years. The archaeologists have also discovered that the settlement layers dating back from the Akkadian Empire period (2340-2200 BC). The Akkadian empire is regarded as the first world empire in human history.

The 30 member team of archeologists are headed by Professor Peter Pfälzner from the University of Tübingen and Dr. Hasan Qasim from the Directorate of Antiquities in Dohuk. The team conducted the excavation work in Bassetki between August and October 2016 and was able to preempt the construction work on a highway on this land as reported by CNN and Past Horizons website.

The former significance of the settlement can be seen from the finds discovered during the excavation work. The archeologists can tell that the city already had a wall running around the upper part of the town from approx. 2700 BC onwards in order to protect its residents from invaders. Large stone structures were erected there in about 1800 BC. The researchers also found fragments of Assyrian cuneiform tablets dating from about 1300 BC, which suggested the existence of a temple dedicated to the Mesopotamian weather god Adad on this site. There was a lower town about one kilometre long outside the city centre. Using geomagnetic resistance measurements, the archaeologists discovered indications of an extensive road network, various residential districts, grand houses and a kind of palatial building dating from the Bronze Age. The residents buried their dead at a cemetery outside the city.

The settlement was connected to the neighbouring regions of Mesopotamia and Anatolia via an overland roadway dating from about 1800 BC.

Bassetki was only known to the general public in the past because of the “Bassetki statue,” which was discovered there by chance in 1975. This is a fragment of a bronze figure of the Akkadian god-king Naram-Sin (about 2250 BC). The discovery was stolen from the National Museum in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2003, but was later rediscovered by US soldiers. The archaeologists have now been able to substantiate their assumption that an important outpost of Akkadian culture may have been located there.

The team reports that although the excavation site is only 45 kilometres from territory controlled by the IS, it was possible to conduct the archeological work without any disturbances due to the fact that there is a great deal of security and stability in the Kurdish autonomous areas of Iraq.


Destruction and Looters in Earthquake zones in Italy: Italian army deployed


italy_lootersIt has been a very difficult year for Italy as the country experienced several earthquakes and after-shocks since this past August.  In late October and again in early November, central Italy was hot again by more earth quakes.  On November 3rd, a magnitude 5.0 earthquake struck central Italy in the early hours of the morning in the same region hit by strong quakes in late October. This one was centered 32 miles (51.5 km) southeast of Perugia. In the hours after the quake, loss of life and security of people living in the region are of utmost important. 

However, as it became more obvious, the looters and thieves had other ideas in mind.  In the village of Nottoria, near Norcia, a small church was looted and a famous painting was stolen. The painting titled The Forgiveness of Assisi, was taken from a damaged church and was painted in 1631 by a French artist, Jean Lhomme, who also produced works for the then pope, Urban VIII. The theft of the painting was not the first case as more looting had been done after the previous earthquakes.  In fact, the Italian government is reporting that many of the churches, chapels and other monuments affected by the earthquake are in isolated areas and there are fears that more works of art could be targeted by looters and thieves.

After the several reports of thefts and looting, the Italian government has now deployed Italian soldiers to the mountainous region hit by the earthquake to guard against looters.  In fact, it has been reported by the news agencies that the patrols of the area are to increase, with soldiers joining forces with police and the paramilitary Carabinieri. Around 500 soldiers were deployed to the quake-hit zone, as reported the Italian defense ministry said.  Police are also searching churches, monasteries and convents damaged in the quake in order to recover precious artifacts.  The paintings, statues, crucifixes and reliquaries are being stored in a warehouse rented by the cultural heritage ministry.  In addition, fire fighters have erected large tarpaulins over the remains of the 14th century Basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, the most notable of the monuments damaged in the mountain town. It has been reported that the fire service used cranes to lift monumental oil paintings from inside damaged churches. 

The local people, who have already been traumatized by a number of earth-quakes, have seen destruction and loss of over 300 lives.  Early November’s quake was the biggest to strike Italy in the last 36 years, but caused no deaths. 

Artifact Registration, National Museum of Afghanestan


afghanistanOn August, 2016 the registration process of preserved artifacts of National museum of Afghanistan in the central bank vaults of Presidential palace started.

A Team of professional members of National museum with the cooperation of Oriental Institute of Chicago University has been appointed to register and repack, some of the artifacts of National museum, which are preserved in the central bank vaults of presidential palace.

According to the Acting Director of National museum of Afghanistan Muhammad Fahim Rahimi, the main purpose of this registration is to document artifacts of national museum of Afghanistan based on recognized professional standards and better preservation of these artifacts as they will be conserved and repack with accepted packing materials.

Stolen Van Gogh Paintings Recovered in Italy


van_goghLast month (September 2016),  the Italian anti-mob Police recovered paintings from a house in stronghold of Camorra crime syndicate near Naples.  Two Vincent van Gogh paintings that were stolen 14 years ago from a museum in Amsterdam more have been recovered by Italian authorities in Naples following a sting operation that targeted organized crime.

The paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen, painted in 1882, and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen, painted in 1884, were the two paintings recently discovered after allegedly being hidden away in one of the houses of an international drug trafficker based in Castellammare di Stabia, near Naples.

The authenticity of the paintings has already been confirmed by an expert from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, from where they were stolen in 2002.  The experts from the museum have stated that they are not sure when the paintings were supposed to be returned to the museum and that one of the paintings has a small patch of damage in the bottom corner. Otherwise the paintings appeared to be in good condition.

The theft was considered one of the most infamous heists to rock the art world in recent times. The thieves entered the Van Gogh museum from the roof of the building, which allowed them to get past security and cameras undetected, even though their entry did trigger alarms. They had used a ladder to climb up to a window and then smashed through it using a cloth to protect their hands.

As reported by a number of news outlets, the two men, Octave Durham, an art thief who earned the nickname The Monkey for his ability to evade police, and his accomplice Henk Bieslijn, were eventually convicted of the theft in 2004 after police discovered their DNA at the scene of the crime. They were handed four year sentences, but authorities were never able to track down the stolen works.

View of the Sea at Scheveningen is one of Van Gogh’s early paintings and depicts the beach resort close to The Hague. It was the only work in the museum’s collection from Van Gogh’s two years in The Hague and one of just two Dutch seascapes the artist made.

Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen is a smaller work that Van Gogh painted for his mother in 1884, and depicts a church in Brabant where his father Theodorus was a preacher. After his father’s death in 1885 Van Gogh revised the painting, adding figures of women wearing black shawls used in mourning.