Libyan World Heritage Sites Safe

Emergency assessment mission

Published on 30 September 2011

Author(s): ANCBS and IMCuRWG

Type:  Media Release

The recent conflict in Libya called for an emergency assessment mission to determine the cultural heritage situation. Since no independent confirmation about damage and looting had occurred thus far, two organizations involved in international protection of cultural heritage, Blue Shield and the International Military Cultural Resources Work Group, organized a mission to meet with Libyan officials and get a first hand impression of the situation.

The mission has visited the National Museum in Tripoli as well as two World Heritage archaeological sites: Sabratha and Leptis Magna. All three are closed to the public now, but well guarded. The team was very impressed by the excellent precautionary measures of the local museum professionals and archaeologists.

The most important pieces were brought into the storage rooms or hidden vaults. Welding exterior doors proved to be much better protection than locks. Very important at the large archaeological sites was the intense collaboration with the local population, e.g. sheep herders.

  • National Museum in Tripoli: no losses, nearly no damage.
  • In Leptis Magna Gaddafi militia tried to take control of the site, but without success. Everything is safe. 
  • In Sabratha the Army Brigade 219 that occupied posts from early July until the 17th of August. This caused minor damage from small arms and anti aircraft fire and from the use of heavy equipment on site. The perimeter fence was broken down in many places.

Reports from other places in Libya were mixed. Among the bad news is that the museum in Misurata has been severely damaged, but it is not known if pieces are missing. The museum director was kidnapped by the Gaddafi militia shortly before the collapse and his fate is unknown.

Overall it has to be stated that there is no evidence of organized looting in the museums or sites.

The final detailed and illustrated report will be published online next week on the web site of Blue Shield Austria:

About the mission

Planning this mission began this spring, but commenced in earnest only after the cessation of active hostilities in Tripoli. There were a number of problems to be solved with regard to official approval from the Transitional Government for the team to travel to Libya, not to mention the logistical problems of travel to and within Libya. The team flew to Djerba, Tunisia, on Tuesday, 27 September and on 28th they traveled by car to Tripoli. Today, September 30, the team has returned by the same route.

The team:

  • Karl von Habsburg, President, Association of National Committees of the BlueShield (ANCBS)
  • Drs Joris Kila, Chairman, International Military Cultural Resources Work Group (IMCuRWG); University of Amsterdam

Support provided by:

  • Dr. Hafed Walda (archaeologist from Misurata, currently working at King’s College in London)
    Home base (background research, coordination, communication): 
  • Dr. Thomas Schuler, President, Disaster Relief Task Force (DRTF) International Council of Museums

Media contact:
Dr. Thomas Schuler
Tel: +49 371 2601007
Fax: +49 371 2600743
Skype: drthschuler

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