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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs