News / Science & Technology

    Cards Protect Combat Zone Historic Sites

    Archeological playing cards, created by US Army archeologist Dr. Laurie Rush and her colleagues, help troops recognize and respect the cultural heritage in the countries where they’re deployed. (Photo by Luigi Fraboni)
    Archeological playing cards, created by US Army archeologist Dr. Laurie Rush and her colleagues, help troops recognize and respect the cultural heritage in the countries where they’re deployed. (Photo by Luigi Fraboni)
    Nancy Greenleese
    AMELIA, Italy — Laurie Rush is on a mission. The American scientist is teaching the U.S. military about the value of archeological sites and ancient artifacts in combat zones.

    Rush joined forces with the U.S. military in 1998, when she accepted a civilian post as an archeologist at Fort Drum, New York. The area is rich in Native American history, Rush’s specialty, and part of her job is to ensure that construction and training on the vast base don’t harm any valuable archeological sites.

    That’s what happened in the ancient Iraqi city of Babylon in 2003 following the U.S.-led invasion. As American and Polish troops were building a camp, they inadvertently crushed an ancient brick pavement and destroyed dragon decorations on the Ishtar Gate, which was constructed at around 575 BC.
     
    “My participation, and the entire change in my own personal career, came with learning that there had been damage at Babylon," Rush says. "It immediately occurred to me that a better educated force would not have made those kinds of mistakes.”
    Laurie Rush and colleague Brian Rose at the ancient city of Uruk in Iraq, talking with Mr. Altubi, head of the family that protects the site. (Courtesy Laurie Rush)Laurie Rush and colleague Brian Rose at the ancient city of Uruk in Iraq, talking with Mr. Altubi, head of the family that protects the site. (Courtesy Laurie Rush)
    x
    Laurie Rush and colleague Brian Rose at the ancient city of Uruk in Iraq, talking with Mr. Altubi, head of the family that protects the site. (Courtesy Laurie Rush)
    Laurie Rush and colleague Brian Rose at the ancient city of Uruk in Iraq, talking with Mr. Altubi, head of the family that protects the site. (Courtesy Laurie Rush)

    In collaboration with Colorado State University, Rush designed a simple but effective training tool for U.S. troops: playing cards. Three different decks of cards were produced, with versions displaying photos and messages about the cultural heritage of Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt.  

    When they sent out queries to base archeologists and deploying units to see if anyone wanted the cards, the requests poured in. The U.S. National Guard distributed many of the 165,000 decks in circulation. Troops from more than 10 countries made use of the Egyptian decks during training exercises there.

    Each playing card has a different image: pictures of Buddhist statues, tablets, and ancient brick walls. There are also reminders that buying and selling antiquities is illegal, and instructions to ”Look before you dig!” Rush says troops passing the hours with poker games have absorbed the messages.

    “There is a tiny site at a forward operating base east of Baghdad. It’s a Mesopotamian city site," Rush says. "And I got an email from a soldier and he said, ‘Dr. Rush, I think that they’re digging into archeological property here at this forward operating base.’”

    Rush immediately notified the base commander. The 1954 Hague Convention, signed by more than 100 countries, requires the protection of cultural heritage in war zones.

    “And as a result, the ‘Keep Out’ signs went up that afternoon," Rush says. "So there’s a tiny [historical] place that is still there.”

    In the ancient Italian city of Amelia, Rush spoke at the conference of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art. She says troops at first express impatience when hearing her pleas for preservation in conflict zones.

    “Soldiers will often say, ‘Dr. Rush, if what you’re suggesting is going to result in losses of my personnel, don’t even think about it,’” Rush says.

    However, the troops are more receptive once she explains how the destruction of cultural property could interfere with their mission.

    "One of the examples that comes to mind is situations in Afghanistan where U.S. military personnel might not recognize that those piles of stone by the side of the road with a little flag is a burial of a recently deceased family member," she says. "If you run over that with your military vehicle, you’re going to understandably anger the Afghans.”

    On the other hand, she notes, respect for historical sites has helped foster trust and good will between the military and the locals, as happened in the ancient city of Ur.

    “The Americans had protected Ur during the early phases when all the looting was taking place in the southern part of Iraq," she says. "By 2009, the situation had stabilized so it was time to give it back to the Iraqi people.”   

    Rush and some colleagues went to Ur and reassured the installation commander that it was the proper step to take.  

    “It was going to be a good news story, that they had taken excellent care of the site and it was ready to be returned to the Iraqi people," she says. "So a month later, there was a huge celebration and over 300 Iraqi people came to celebrate the return of their ancient city. So that was an extraordinary life experience.”

    Rush believes simulations of heritage protection must be incorporated into troop training. At Fort Drum, troops use mock Middle Eastern archeological sites for realistic exercises, a model which has been duplicated on other bases.

    Some veterans, inspired by what Rush opened their eyes to, are studying to become archeologists. She hopes they’ll become soldier-preservationists who will support the military mission while also fostering respect for cultural heritage - a winning hand for all concerned.

    You May Like

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Lynda Albertson, CEO from: Rome, Italy
    July 28, 2012 1:26 PM
    The Association for Research into Crimes against Art was not only pleased to have Dr. Rush speak at our annual Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection conference in 2011 and 2012 but also to host her as our Writer in Residence as she works on a manuscript important to cultural heritage protection.

    Always a professional, Dr. Rush is also a warm and available educator whom students and professors alike benefited from. The American military needs more folks with her professionalism and commitment.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora