Cultural Heritage Center Special Projects support U.S. and international diplomatic and law enforcement efforts to combat looting, theft, and trafficking of cultural property by means of training for cultural heritage and law enforcement professionals; regional workshops to promote cooperation among countries with cultural heritage at risk and between them and U.S. agencies; and cooperation with international organizations. Some examples of these Special Projects are provided below.

The Projects

Ghazni Towers Project, Afghanistan

An interagency agreement with the US National Park Service (NPS) enabled NPS Heritage Documentation Programs technical staff to work with two Afghan architects from Kabul University and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to complete the production of architectural drawings of two renowned 12th century AD towers in Ghazni, Afghanistan. The towers, under threat from water erosion, exposure to the elements, looting and vandalism, were the subject of exhibitions in Afghanistan and the United States. The Afghan architects received professional training in the United States under an agreement with the U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), in addition to participating in the preparations for the exhibitions.

An architect with HABS, records field notes in front of the Mas'ud III tower. An architect with HABS, records field notes in front of the Mas'ud III tower. Photo Credit, Agnieszka Dolatosia


Tikal National Park Project, Guatemala

A U.S. Embassy and Guatemalan Ministry of Culture initiative supported the development of a “Master Plan for the Physical Security of Tikal National Park,” which contains one of the largest and most important ancient Maya archaeological sites.  A U.S.-Guatemalan team worked with on-site administrators, archaeologists, and security personnel, Ministry officials in the capital, and other stakeholders to develop site security procedures for preventing looting and theft; establishing a sustainably secure and safe environment for Park employees, users, researchers, residents, and tourists; and training Guatemalan cultural heritage professionals in project planning methods that are transferrable to other sites in Guatemala.

Documenting old archaeological tunnels at the Tikal archaeological site. Documenting old archaeological tunnels at the Tikal archaeological site.


Arequipa Colonial Church Project, Peru

A U.S. Embassy initiative in cooperation with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture and the Archdiocese of Arequipa supported a three-day workshop on “Security and Preservation of Colonial Cultural Heritage Objects and Sites in Southern Peru,” held in Arequipa, Peru, on November 2014.  More than 100 participants, including priests, nuns, and lay persons with responsibilities for the security and preservation of  their churches, monasteries, convents, and museums located in the three southern regions of the country received training in Peruvian and Church law for cultural heritage protection, physical security against theft, registration of cultural objects, and preparedness planning for earthquakes, fires, and other emergencies.

Workshop participants in Arequipa, Peru, learn how to handle and inventory cultural objects in their Colonial period churches Workshop participants in Arequipa, Peru, learn how to handle and inventory cultural objects in their Colonial period churches


U.S.-Canadian Bilateral Cooperation Project, Toronto, Canada

A two-day workshop promoting U.S.-Canadian Cooperation in Preventing Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property was held in June 2014 in Toronto, Canada, in support of an initiative of the U.S. Consulate General and the ICE Attaché’s Office and their Canadian counterparts in response to concerns about cultural objects originating from or passing through Canada and illicitly entering the United States. About 35 U.S. and Canadian law enforcement and customs officials and museum conservators, curators, and archaeologists participated in the workshop, which was hosted by the Royal Ontario Museum. Topics included U.S. and Canadian laws and resources, handling objects and determining their authentication and provenance, a hands-on session with museum conservators and curators, and case-studies of investigations.


ICOM Red Lists of Cultural Heritage Objects 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.

To date the Cultural Heritage Center has funded ICOM Red Lists for West AfricaIraq, Afghanistan, Peru, Cambodia, Central America and Mexico, Haiti, ChinaEgypt and Syria.  Visit for more information.

The ICOM Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk, launched in September 2013 The ICOM Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk, launched in September 2013


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 United States on site management planning, documentation, inventory, preservation, and security; as well as public education and outreach, community relations, and collections management.


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 United States.