Global Network for Protecting Cultural Heritage

The Foundation is committed to international action in response to the worldwide threat to cultural heritage. A collaborative project is investigating illicit trade and devising new methods of protecting cultural assets.

Panel discussion at the international conference "Cultural Heritage in Danger: Illicit excavations and trade" (Opens a larger version of the image)

"Cultural Heritage in Danger: Illicit excavations and trade", international conference on 11th/12th December 2014. © SPK / Torben Geeck

International Conference on the Protection of Cultural Heritage

In December 2014, the Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), together with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (German Archaeological Institute) and the Deutsche Verband für Archäologie (German Association for Archaeology), hosted the highly praised conference on "Cultural Heritage in Danger: Illicit Excavations and Trade". Experts from politics, practice and science came together with about 300 participants in the Weltsaal of the Federal Foreign Office to discuss measures for protecting cultural heritage.

This international conference concluded with an urgent appeal to clamp down on illegal excavations and thus to curtail the associated systematic destruction of the cultural treasures of human history around the world. The exchange of views among archaeologists, lawyers, cultural policymakers, police investigators, and art dealers revealed that the global situation is alarming. Monika Grütters, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, pledged to address these concerns in the amendment of the cultural property protection act.

The conference was reflected in the SPK Magazine's first issue of 2015 which focused on the protection of cultural heritage. The new-look magazine covers discussions and reports from crisis regions and responds to current developments.

Investigation of the Illicit Trade in Cultural Goods

The Foundation plays an active part in combating illicit trade. Among the scientific and practical measures that it is taking is the ILLICID project, which was launched in 2015. This aims to cast light on the hidden extent of illicit trade in cultural property within Germany. Its project partners are the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT), in Darmstadt, and GESIS - Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, in Mannheim.

Prior to this, there have been hardly any reliable figures for the volume of this trade. That has made it difficult to develop effective strategies for combating crime in this area. In the opinion of many international organizations, however, the profits made from trafficking in cultural property are a mainstay of organized crime. Germany is still an important market and transit state in this criminal activity. The amendment of legislation on the protection of cultural heritage is therefore urgently needed.

The three-year collaborative project is coordinated by Prof. Dr. Markus Hilgert, Director of the Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). ILLICID is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with a grant of 1.2 million euros. UNESCO is a partner in the project. Among the associated partners are the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, the Federal Criminal Police Office, and the Customs Crime Office in Cologne.

Protecting Cultural Heritage in Partnership with UNESCO

The Foundation is cooperating with UNESCO in the fight against the illicit trade in antiquities from Iraq and Syria. The agreement on cooperation was signed in 2015. The partners are now working more closely together on capacity building.The Foundation is also supporting the educational campaign #UNITE4HERITAGE run by UNESCO. The aim is to increase public awareness of the crime of trafficking antiquities. This is an effective way of reducing the number of potential buyers of stolen cultural objects.

Links for Additional Information

Logo of the conference Cultural Heritage in Danger: Illicit excavations and trade
© SPK / design: Zimmermann Editorial

International conference Cultural Heritage in Danger: Illicit excavations and trade

On 11 and 12 December 2014, experts in the fields of politics, science and practical implementation discussed measures to protect cultural assets with around 300 participants.

Front and back covers of the SPK Magazine issue no. 7
© Photograph: SPK / Torben Geeck

SPK Magazine

Theme: The Obliteration of World Heritage Issue no. 7 (2015)