The Cultural Heritage Center supports efforts to conserve the heritage of Afghanistan and other countries threatened with damage or loss during times of conflict or crisis. Such efforts include documentation of monuments, training for heritage and law enforcement professionals, and dissemination of information about heritage at risk.

The Projects

Ghazni Towers Documentation Project

U.S. Embassy Kabul, in collaboration with the Cultural Heritage Center, recently initiated a state-of-the-art laser scanning documentation project in Ghazni, Afghanistan. Architects from the U.S. National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) carried out the fieldwork with the endorsement of the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, and assistance from the military and civilian Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghazni. This project complements preparations for 2013 when the city of Ghazni will be honored as the Asian Capital of Islamic Civilization, a designation by the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

The towers at Ghazni, located 85 miles south of Kabul, are among the last vestiges of the great Silk Road empire of the Ghaznavids (10th and 12th centuries AD). Ghazni was renowned as a center of learning and the arts, as well as a seat of conquest. The 20-meter-high flanged towers are built of fired mud brick faced with inscriptions that describe the military victories of their builders, Sultans Masud III and Bahram Shah. Despite surviving devastating attacks by the Gurids and Mongols, the towers are under threat today from water erosion, looting, exposure to the elements, and vibrations from a nearby road that together threaten to collapse these unique cultural landmarks.

To record the present state of preservation of the towers, HABS architects measured the structures using high definition laser scanners and high dynamic range panoramic photography. The results will be used to produce an archival set of highly accurate, measured architectural drawings. An archaeologist with the Polish military also photographically recorded the towers and the scanning process. This documentation will serve as a permanent record of one of Afghanistan’s most important historic sites, as well as a foundational step for conservation and protection of the towers in the future.


Support for the Cultural Heritage of Afghanistan

The Cultural Heritage Center has entered into an inter-agency agreement with the U.S. National Park Service to provide professional training in archaeological and historical site management to cultural heritage specialists of the Ministry of Information and Culture of Afghanistan. The Afghan participants work with NPS personnel at National Parks in the American southwest and elsewhere in the U.S. on site management planning, documentation, inventory, preservation, and security; as well as public education and outreach, community relations, and collections management.


ICOM Red Lists of Antiquities at Risk

The Cultural Heritage Center supports the efforts of the International Council on Museums (ICOM) to produce Red Lists of Antiquities at Risk – compact, illustrated booklets – for customs officials, police officers, museums, art dealers, and collectors, to help them recognize the general types of artifacts and other cultural objects that have been looted from archaeological sites, stolen from museums and churches, and illicitly trafficked. The Center has supported the development, production, distribution, and promotion of Red Lists of archaeological, ethnographic, and ecclesiastical objects from major source countries and regions. Visit the Red Lists Database, which includes Red Lists for Iraq (2003), Afghanistan (2007), Peru (2007), Cambodia (2009), and Mexico and Central America (2010), China (2010), Colombia (2010), Haiti (2010), and Egypt (2011). The Red Lists are available in English, French, the language(s) of the source country, and other languages.


UNESCO’S Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws

The Center supports the Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws being developed by UNESCO. The purpose of this online database is to make the relevant national legislation and international agreements of the member countries of UNESCO easily available to law enforcement agencies, museums, galleries, collectors, and others having legal questions concerning objects that may have been stolen or looted and/or illegally exported, imported or acquired. Over 2,200 laws, agreements, contact information, and web links of some 177 member countries have been published on the Database, which permits keyword searches in multiple languages.


Regional Workshops

In March of 2007, the Cultural Heritage Center sponsored the first of four regional workshops on topics relating to the protection of cultural resources from looting and illicit trafficking. These are undertaken with the support of U.S. Embassies, as well as ministries of culture and NGOs in the host countries. In collaboration with the Organization of American States (OAS), the first workshop was convened in Mexico City, and hosted by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). About 35 professionals from the museum, legal, conservation, and cultural heritage fields from Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic gathered for three days at the National Museum of Anthropology to exchange experiences and effective practices in defending cultural heritage.

In April of 2008, the second regional workshop was convened in Medellín, Colombia, focusing on case studies in heritage protection in the Andean region. About 35 professionals from the fields associated with cultural heritage from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru gathered to share their successes and challenges in protecting their own and each other’s heritage.

One of the findings of the Andean regional meeting was the need for focused training in heritage site security. In response, the Center co-sponsored a training program for 35 Colombian site managers, curators, and archivists, which was held at the University of Antioquia in Medellín in March 2009. Colombia’s Ministry of Culture, the University of Antioquia, the City of Medellin, and the Centro Colombo-Americano (Colombian-U.S. binational cultural center) also participated and provided support.

A third regional workshop in this series took place in June 2009 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for cultural heritage and law enforcement officials from Central America, Mexico, and the U.S. A fourth workshop, held in July 2009 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, brought together heritage and law enforcement officials from Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S.

In their own words

Muzhgan .. Participant Afghanistan Cultural Heritage Special Projects United States Read the story

Contact Us

For Mail:

Cultural Heritage Center (ECA/P/C)
SA-5, Floor C2
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC  20522-05C2

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Cultural Heritage Center (ECA/P/C)
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U.S. Department of State
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Tel.: 202-632-6301
Fax: 202-632-6300