Archaeological vandalism: Two stories

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Satellite image of Leptis Magna from Google Maps. Note the Wadi Lebda flowing along the east side of the archaeological zone.

How much do people value historic ruins, archaeological sites, and standing buildings? Typically these irreplaceable resources are relatively unprotected, perhaps with a modest fence and sometimes a watchman. Most archaeological resources, however, remain safe because people voluntarily leave them alone.

Consider the recent events at two archaeological sites, one a building on the grounds of a National Register property near Macon, and the other a famous UNESCO World Heritage site on the Mediterranean coast in northeast Libya.

In early February 2011, someone set fire to the unoccupied superintendent’s house at the Ocmulgee National Monument. Firefighters responded to the alarm and managed to confine the damage to two rooms, although they both suffered heavy damage. The house was built before the Civil War, and housed a crew from the Smithsonian Institution when they excavated there in the 1930s. All this information is drawn from Liz Fabian’s article dated 10 February and posted online at macon.com.

Meanwhile, over in Libya terrible things are happening. Reuters correspondent Marie-Louise Gumuchian reports that as of 27 February, however, the ruins of the famous ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna (also Lepcis Magna), about 80 miles east of Tripoli and not far from the coastal highway, has so far been untouched by looting or vandalism.

Libyans are well aware that in addition to petroleum products, a major source of cash—as a nation—comes from tourism. And tourists flock to places like these Roman ruins.

Granted, comparing war-torn Libya and an unoccupied building in central Georgia may be unfair, but vandalism is vandalism, and whenever archaeological resources are damaged by it, it means that the vandals did not value the building or ruins enough to leave them alone.

Or perhaps you would analyze the stories of these two archaeological resources differently. Login and leave us your comments.