Protecting Libyan Archaeology

February 22, 2013

Amanda Nagy

Archaeological site with classical columns
Photo credit: Susan Kane

Professor of Art History and Classical Archaeology Susan Kane has been awarded a Presidential Award from the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) for her work to preserve Libyan archaeological sites and heritage during Operation Unified Protector, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operation to protect Libyan citizens during the country’s civil war in 2011.

Kane, along with three fellow award recipients and numerous collaborators, took the initiative to compile a “No-strike” list of important archaeological sites in Libya. The list provided NATO with precise coordinates of these sites to avoid damage during military operations.

Fellow recipients of the SAA award include Corine Wegener, the cultural heritage preservation officer at the Smithsonian Institution; Tim Melancon, in the operational environment analysis division of the Defense Intelligence Agency; and Serena Bellew, the deputy federal preservation officer at the Department of Defense.

“The SAA Presidential Award is made to recognize those individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the Society and its goals,” says SAA president Fred Limp. “A major Society goal has always been the preservation of the ever-diminishing record of the past that is found in archaeological sites — the destruction of any sites and heritage means that they are forever lost to scholarship, but, perhaps even more significantly, it has an immediate, enduring negative impact on the local residents.

“By gathering this data and providing it to the military planners, Professor Kane and her collaborators preserved for the entire world the extraordinary archaeological heritage of Libya.”

Kane began her work in Libya in the 1970s, and, after the country’s political embargo of the 1980s and 90s, returned in 2004 as the leader of the American archaeological mission. The main site of Kane’s work is the ancient Greek colony of Cyrene, one of the country’s five United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites. For her work in protecting Cyrene during Operation Unified Protector, the Friends of Cyrene named Kane an honorary president of their organization and bestowed upon her the title of honorary martyr.

“I am deeply moved by the SAA’s acknowledgement of our work to protect Libya,” says Kane. “It was a real team effort with many collaborators both in the United States and abroad. I feel that I was only one member of a large team and the award should be on behalf of them all.”

The award will be presented to Kane on April 5 in Honolulu at the SAA’s annual meeting. 

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