Accurate, complete, accessible, and secure inventories of all types of cultural property are an obvious requirement for the good management of such resources—which include archaeological sites, historic buildings, museums, and archives and libraries. These inventories form the bedrock of most national legislation concerning heritage protection and are a fundamental element of many international conventions, including the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

Unfortunately, such inventories frequently exist only as aspirations. When natural and human-provoked disaster strikes, the lack of good data is cruelly exposed, and significant heritage is often lost, along with the information it contains. Events of the last decade demonstrate the need for such inventories, particularly during armed conflict.


On February 2, 2003, less than eight weeks before the invasion of Iraq by the United States/United Kingdom coalition, I was asked to help the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) identify and protect the archaeological cultural heritage in Iraq. Despite reservations about the request's timing, I sought help from the most recent director of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq and the director of the (now-closed) Illicit Antiquities Research Centre in Cambridge, and we: (1) provided a list of particularly vulnerable sites, (2) stressed the vulnerability of museums and sites to looting, and (3) reminded the MOD of the United Kingdom's responsibilities under international law to protect cultural property—in particular under the Geneva Conventions, as the nation had not, and still has not, ratified the 1954 Hague Convention. While there was little damage to cultural property during the invasion, this result had more to do with the precise air bombardment, the careful identification of military and associated targets, the failure of the Iraqi armed forces to mount a credible defense, and the remoteness of most sites on this list and the list provided to the Pentagon than with advice provided on cultural property protection (CPP). This was only a qualified success because the military action did not address our last two points above, and the coalition's failure on these matters led to the entirely avoidable looting of museums and catastrophic pillaging of archaeological sites.1 Since then, I have worked to encourage cultural heritage professionals, the military, and other players, especially politicians, in the United Kingdom and NATO, to take CPP more seriously.2

Western military strategists appear to have recognized their failings in Iraq and Afghanistan and now view protecting cultural property as what they call a "force multiplier"—something that makes their work easier. They have begun to acknowledge that by protecting cultural property they are more likely to win the hearts and minds of occupied populations, or at least not to alienate them. CPP has entered military consciousness as part of NATO's "comprehensive approach," a doctrine that affirms that the military cannot simply win a war but must also deliver a stable country.

However, CPP has yet to become integral to the comprehensive approach. In conjunction with others, I am working with NATO and several national militaries to develop a fourtier approach that incorporates CPP into military doctrine and planning.3 Tier 1 requires CPP instruction within basic training for all military personnel at appropriate levels; at present, most NATO countries include some training with respect to CPP. Tier 2 is introduced when deployment becomes a possibility, and the military needs to review specific information about the cultural property it will encounter.4 Tier 3 relates to activity during conflict, and tier 4 to post-conflict CPP in the period that the military calls "stabilization."

When natural and human-provoked disaster strikes, the lack of good data is cruelly exposed, and significant heritage is often lost, along with the information it contains.

The four-tier approach requires the provision of lists of cultural property to be protected, if possible, during a conflict. Military leaders actually aspire to have a list for every country. However, we are a long way from being able (and perhaps willing) to supply such data. There is also the issue of who should provide these lists to the military. The list we gave to the UK military in 2003 was produced by British experts in coordination with colleagues in Iraq. In a parallel effort, US scholars provided US military and civilian planners lists of cultural sites to be protected, including locations of more than five thousand archaeological sites.5 Lists for Libya and Mali were produced—as those conflicts developed—by expatriate and international experts working primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States, with varying degrees of liaison with in-country colleagues. A similar inventory is currently being produced for Syria.

Many countries produce such lists as a part of their heritage management. Unfortunately, many do not, and numerous lists do not include the precise location coordinates needed by the military. The organization that should be promoting and facilitating the development of such lists is, perhaps, the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS), established in 1996 and later identified to support the 1954 Hague Convention. However, the ICBS has not attracted sufficient funding to create an effective organization; neither has the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield, created in 2008 partly to address shortcomings of the ICBS. The US Committee of the Blue Shield and the emerging UK National Committee have become, by default, the main conduits of information to their own militaries and NATO.


Experience has demonstrated some issues with inventories. The first is that lists need to cover all cultural property as defined in the 1954 Hague Convention, not exclusively archaeological sites and museums. This goal requires increased collaboration with colleagues across a range of disciplines, including museum professionals, architectural historians, librarians, and archivists. Such cooperation is being developed through the creation of national committees of the Blue Shield. But this slow, mostly unfunded work is frequently perceived as low priority.

The second issue is the size of lists. For Iraq we supplied a list of some thirty archaeological sites, in addition to museums. When I gave information in 2011 to the MOD and NATO for Libya, there were 1,685 sites on the list; nearly 400 sites were on the list provided in December 2012 for Mali, and at last count there were over 700 sites on Syria's provisional list. This difference in list size partly reflects differences in current knowledge of archaeological sites in particular countries. In Mali, for example, the sites identified around Timbuktu came from a recent survey, and all sites were included. For the rest of the country, only previously designated "sites of national importance" were included. The different lists prompted a variety of responses from different militaries, with some seeking as much information as possible and others requesting more "manageable" lists. The number of places to be protected during conflict was an issue raised by the UK Parliamentary Committee scrutinizing the 2008 draft bill that would have ratified the 1954 Hague Convention. The English National Heritage List has over 400,000 entries, a figure suggested, not unreasonably, to be impossible for the military to deal with effectively.

A third issue is when and by whom lists are produced. The publication of a definitive list for Syria was delayed, while fighting continued, as four different lists—produced by four different groups with differing levels of contact with Syrian experts—were compared and collated. The different lists had different English spellings and therefore different records of the same sites. Some lists had good GPS data; others less good. Some had explanations of the importance of sites; others did not.

The fourth issue is the kind of data required. Few countries have detailed coordinates for cultural property, and only a small group can provide such data for archaeological sites; even here there are limits. For instance, only relatively recently was the United Kingdom able to provide detailed boundary data for some larger World Heritage Sites, including Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall. If this country, with its long history of heritage management, has only recently been able to offer detailed information on its World Heritage Sites (surely the first sites to be identified on any list), there is little chance that less wealthy countries could provide such details—and yet, such georeferenced data are what militaries need.

While we do not yet completely understand the complexities of cultural heritage protection in times of conflict, there is comfort in some recent efforts. While the lists of Libyan sites to be protected were compiled in haste, there was some success. For example, those loyal to the Gadhafi regime, presumably aware that NATO would take damage to cultural property into consideration, parked six mobile radar vehicles next to the Roman fort at Ras Almargeb. But with cooperation between heritage professionals and the military—and careful targeting—the military targets were completely destroyed with minimal damage to the heritage site.

Much work remains. Clearly the provision of inventories should be part of immediate predeployment activity. Some definitive steps would include developing networks, facilitated by the Blue Shield, which could produce all-inclusive heritage lists. It obviously would be best if all countries produced their own lists in a standard, internationally sanctioned format, well before conflict became a real threat (i.e., in tier 1). A goal might be to have these lists produced by nations in conjunction with the wider academic community.

Cultural property experts, the military, and other parties need to agree on the information required in lists and need to create criteria to manage list size. The UK National Committee of the Blue Shield is in early discussions with the MOD about how best to prioritize sites. This prioritization would avoid the extreme of producing lists seeking to protect every place of historic or cultural interest—lists so large that they would inhibit successful military activity and thus be ignored—and help produce lists small enough to be accepted by the military that also protect important heritage. This work requires multinational and multiagency involvement, and the embryonic UK discussions are a prelude to this complex task.

We also need a debate about how widely these lists should circulate. In a conversation I had in 1999 with the minister of culture for Croatia, he noted that on the eve of war in the former Yugoslavia, Croatia had, as required by the 1954 Hague Convention, produced a list of property to be protected and sent it to UNESCO. He told me that in the fighting that followed, every site on the list was targeted by opposition forces. While debate about protecting cultural property during conflict mostly relates to unintended damage, in the Balkans conflict cultural property was targeted as part of a political strategy. We will never know (but can probably guess) whether the sites would have been targeted if the list had not been produced. Identifying sites on a list at least provides evidence to the world judiciary for the trials of those responsible for intentional damage—as indeed happened in the prosecutions for the targeting of the World Heritage Site of Dubrovnik.

Peter Stone is professor of heritage studies at Newcastle University and head of the School of Arts and Cultures. He serves as general secretary of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield and as chairman of the UK National Committee of the Blue Shield.

1. Peter G. Stone and Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, eds., The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2008).
2. Peter G. Stone, ed., Cultural Heritage, Ethics, and the Military (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2011).
3. Peter G. Stone, "A Four-Tier Approach to the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict," Antiquity 87, no. 335 (March 2013): 166–77.
4. Peter Stone, "Human Rights and Cultural Property Protection in Times of Conflict," International Journal of Heritage Studies 18, no. 3 (May 2012): 271–84.
5. McGuire Gibson, "Culture as Afterthought: US Planning and Non-planning in the Invasion of Iraq," Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites 11, nos. 3–4 (November 2009): 333–39.