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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid