Gentle landscapes, quaint villages, stately homes and murder? For a country characterized by its genteel manners, England inspires a lot of killing sprees — of the fictional variety, of course.

The so-called “green and pleasant land” has surely spawned more mystery novelists per capita than any other nation. In addition to dedicated readers, TV viewers on this side of the pond also lap up the excellent English mystery series that come our way.

In recent years, these have included everything from the sometimes tongue-in-cheek Midsomer Murders, to Inspector Morse — and spinoffs Inspector Lewis and Endeavour — edgy newcomer Broadchurch, and the enduring exploits of super-sleuth Hercule Poirot.

In many cases, the visually stunning shooting locations become key to the tale.

Viewers of Midsomer Murders and the Morse-productions know a murder will take place, but they are almost lulled into a false sense of pleasantness by scene after scene of quintessentially English eye-candy.

Detective Inspector Barnaby’s world is rife with thatched-roof cottages and quaint fictional villages with idyllic sounding names — Midsomer Worthy, Midsomer Vertue, Midsomer Mallow and the like. But in a single episode as many as four or even five villagers might meet untimely ends.

In all of the Morse series, murder most foul takes place against one of England’s most elegant backdrops — the university town of Oxford, the so called “city of dreaming spires.”

Broadchurch is set in a sleepy seaside town that becomes the site of a brutal child murder. The crime shakes the small community to its core as dark secrets are revealed each week until the murder is solved.

Key scenes in the first season of Broadchurch were shot against the towering cliffs of West Bay in Bridport.

When I toured Dorset and neighbouring Devon a few weeks back, the popular ITV series had just wrapped filming on Season 2. (An American remake — Gracepoint — has since debuted at home. It features the same crime and the same lead actor, David Tennant, but with Victoria, B.C., standing in for the States.)

While all of these productions have their devotees, most would agree that Poirot — based on 33 Hercule Poirot novels plus many short stories penned by Agatha Christie — is in a class of its own.

Like the Queen of Crime herself, detective Hercule Poirot is a sophisticated world traveller. But more than a few of his complicated cases unfold in and around Torquay — Christie’s home turf in South Devon.

Dubbed the “English Riviera,” for its mild climate and seaside resort towns, the area shows up again and again in Poirot novels and also Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries.

The elderly Jane Marple usually stumbles on crimes in various locales around the English countryside, often while visiting friends.

For the past 25 years, English actor David Suchet has starred in ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot. The last five mysteries in the series — including Curtain, which details the Belgian detective’s death — have all aired in Britain. In North America, two of the last five episodes have aired on PBS while the last three episodes are available only through streaming service Acorn TV.

Suchet has said he will not reprise the role. And with Season 2 of Broadchurch not set to air before 2015, mystery fans may soon be looking for a fix.

Fortunately in Devon and Dorset there are tours, literary trails and other ways to go into a mystery. Here are a few to try:


– With more than 2-billion copies sold, Agatha Christie is not only the world’s top-selling mystery novelist but also one of the world’s top-selling authors of all time.

Throughout her lifetime, she maintained close ties with her hometown of Torquay, where many of the important chapters of her life unfolded. She and second husband Max Mallowan bought a summer home in the area — Greenway — where they spent holidays with family and friends. Christie called the 96-hectare hideaway on the River Dart, “the loveliest place in the world.”

Christie’s only child, daughter Rosalind Hicks, inherited Greenway and later donated it to the National Trust, which opened the house and woodland gardens to the public.

Room guides at the house are happy to dish up Christie tidbits: Three of her 66 mystery novels are set there — Five Little Pigs, Dead Man’s Folly and Ordeal By Innocence. Scenes for the TV version of Dead Man’s Folly were shot at the boathouse. The novelist didn’t like alcohol and preferred a glass of double cream. Christie didn’t write at Greenway, but did read works in progress to family and visitors. The typewriter in the upstairs office belonged to Christie’s husband, a prominent archeologist. The author trained to be a concert pianist but was too shy to play in public.

It’s all very homey with closets full of Christie’s clothes and family photos on every surface. Visitors are welcome to sit outside on the lawn chairs and tinkle the ivories inside on Christie’s grand piano. (Anything but Chopsticks, please.) During my visit, a man wowed the room with an impromptu performance of Claude Debussy’s First Arabesque.

Greenway is open Wednesdays through Sundays from March 8 through Nov. 2, and selected dates at other times.

We took the scenic route from Torquay — a combination of the Dartmouth Steam Railway to Kingswear, riverboat to Dartmouth — where we popped into Rock Fish for take-away fish and chips to eat on the quayside — then the Greenway Ferry to the estate.

– We also hit the Agatha Christie trail with Alex Graeme of Unique Devon Tours.

Graeme tells us “Agatha” was a fun-loving, somewhat mischievous girl who loved the sea and loved to swim. During the tour, we visit several of her favourite coves and beaches, and see vintage photos and postcards.

Graeme also takes us for a stroll along Torquay’s Agatha Christie Mile, where plaques and a statue mark other places she frequented as a young woman, as well as story settings such as The Strand, the Princess Gardens, and the Imperial Hotel.

– For those who prefer meandering on their own, the English Riviera Tourism Co. has a well researched brochure titled The Agatha Christie Literary Trail: Through The English Riviera South Devon. It lists dozens of places significant to the writer and featured in her work.

– Torquay Museum has a permanent Christie gallery. After the final episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot was shot, ITV donated the furniture, books, and other set items to the museum. Visitors can now step inside the lounge/study of the fictional and fussy detective’s Art Deco London apartment.

– Mid-September is a busy time in Torquay with the annual International Agatha Christie festival taking place around the author’s birthday. Next year’s lineup has not been announced but organizers say the week-long festival will be bigger than ever as 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of Christie’s birth on Sept. 15, 1890.

This year’s events included the Garden Party To Die For, murder mystery teas and dinners, a crime writers’ workshop, and talks by authors, including Geoffrey Wansall, author of Being Poirot — the acclaimed biography of David Suchet — and crime writer Sophie Hannah, who was chosen to write the new Hercule Poirot mystery, The Monogram Murders.

Many activities take place at 800-year-old Torre Abbey, where the Potent Plants garden features some of the “horticultural nasties” employed by Christie’s villains. (More than half the victims in Christie’s novels are poisoned.)


Natalie Manifold, of Literary Lyme Walking Tours, leads a location tour for Broadchurch fans.

Creator Chris Chibnall is a local who has been quoted as saying the Dorset coastal landscape was always intended to be a character in the whodunnit, Manifold says.

Chibnall wrote some of the series while sitting in the Watch House Cafe, where we enjoy large tasty bowls of mussels, mackerel salad and a view of the beach and cliff where the victim’s body is found.

Manifold says she originally planned to take tour groups on a hike up the steep cliff, but changed her mind after trying it herself on a windy day.

This area is part of England’s Jurassic Coast, a 153-km stretch from East Devon to Dorset valued for its age (185 million years) and wealth of fossils. Described as a “geological walk through time,” it’s England’s first natural World Heritage site.

We walk from the cafe across rocky Chesil Beach (boots recommended) and hike part of the coastal path to the neighbouring town of Eype. The coastal views are amazing as Manifold points out Broadchurch filming sites along the way.


VisitBritain has a wealth of travel information at its website, visitbritain.com.


– In Torquay, we stayed at the waterfront Grand Hotel. While perhaps not as chic as it might have been in 1914 when Agatha Christie spent her honeymoon night there, rooms are modern, clean and reasonably priced from about $80 for a single to $650 for a two-bedroom suite. See grandtorquay.co.uk.

– In Bridport, we stayed at The Bull, a historic 16th-century coaching inn turned boutique hotel. Some of the Broadchurch cast stayed there while filming, and the hotel is mentioned in Thomas Hardy’s short story Fellow Townsmen. While floors in the ancient building are a bit tilted, rooms are generous, clean and creatively decorated. The restaurant is excellent. Single rates start around $165. See thebullhotel.co.uk.

Article source: http://www.torontosun.com/2014/10/20/civilized-england-a-hotbed-of-dark-deeds


During Charlie Hill’s 47 years at the National Gallery his work and study and even his life have been considered and written about many times, yet still he surprises.

When I ask Hill about the high point of his career at the gallery — the last 35 years as curator of Canadian art, which is to say the high priest of this nation’s art heritage — he doesn’t do the expected and cite an exhibition. Instead, he cites the catalogues that go with the exhibitions.

“That’s where the content remains, whereas on the walls it’s gone,” he says, over the phone as he readies for his imminent retirement. “The exhibitions are quite ephemeral. The publications remain and hopefully either are criticized or built on.

“When I arrived” — that was as a long-haired, free-spirited, gay lib champion in 1967 — “Jean Boggs had initiated a very ambitious publications program for the National Gallery, which in many instances the gallery’s been able to maintain. These catalogues, these books, really are, I think, the thing we can all contribute to the debate about Canadian art history.”

Boggs, the gallery director when Hill was hired, would be followed by Hsio-Yen Shih, Joseph Martin, Shirley Thomson, Pierre Théberge and the current director Marc Mayer, and through all their reigns Hill would work to expand his understanding, and the world’s understanding, of Canadian art. He did it with authority and passion. In an app the gallery released this year Hill talks about one artist’s “very contemplative attitude towards nature.” Having toured exhibitions with Hill over the years, I’ve seen his very contemplative attitude towards art.

“My work tends to focus on the object: it gives me more pleasure,” he says. “I’m not a theoretician, and I think there’s a risk in theory becoming divorced from the object.”

He’s always been drawn to how objects or projects or genres or eras relate to one another, and to society at large, as demonstrated by his first and last solo exhibitions as a curator at the gallery. In the mid ’70s he put together Canadian Painting in the Thirties, of which he now says, “What I was trying to do there was look at the whole context of the arts scene. . . and the relationship of art to society, and also collectors and writers and critics.”

More recently came his swan song, 2013’s Artist, Architects and Artisans: Canadian Art 1890-1918. The exhaustive exhibition brought together everything from tiny pieces of art to grand architectural dreams, with untold layers and links to be found among the array.

“They’re more complicated shows to do in some ways,” Hill says. “How do you start to find a structure of something, which is not necessarily a structured history.” The final show was, he says, the most complicated. It was a bold, final hurrah of assemblage.

Much changed between the years of his first and last exhibitions.

“When we started we were all doing solo exhibitions, in the sense that there was one curator,” he says. “Now — and I think it’s a very constructive direction — you’re working with a group of curators, who have input on different levels. I think that really helps develop new ideas.” A current example of group curation is the gallery’s biennial, Shine A Light, which is the work of a half-dozen curators. (Being contemporary art, it doesn’t involve Hill.)

He’s also seen broader changes, beyond the walls of the gallery. When he was a student in the 1960s, he says, “Canadian art wasn’t really taught at Canadian universities at that point. It was not deemed a suitable subject for academic research.”  Now Canadian artists are known around the world, and the study of indigenous Canadian art has especially expanded.

There’s always a price to growth. “There are fewer shows of Canadian historical art, which is a pity in some way for me personally, but I think a variety of ways of looking at things, diversity, is very good for the country,” he says.  “It some ways our Canadian historical art is losing ground to the contemporary — which is certainly good for contemporary artists.” Besides, he notes, everything contemporary becomes historical.

In the interview Hill sounds content, happy. He’s leaving behind a career as distinguished as it is long, and he’s only days away from his 69th birthday (Oct. 25). So, what next?

He says he wants to return to the biography of Montreal art dealer Max Stern that he began some years ago while on a sabbatical. Presently, he’ll fly to Ireland to spend the winter with his partner, who is a visiting chair to the University College of Dublin.

Dublin is only a cheap flight from most anywhere in Europe, so where might he go from there?

“I’d like to go back to Rome,” he says. “I haven’t been to Rome since I was 17. Never been to Florence.” He mentions Naples, Barcelona, “more of Germany,” and adds, “everybody raves about Prague.” It’s the itinerary of a man with plenty of time, and still curious about the world around him.

Finally, I ask him which piece from the gallery’s collection he would most love to take with him when he walks out the door. He laughs wistfully, and says, “Well, I recently bought an absolutely fabulous Emily Coonan with a young girl and a cat in an interior that I would take, but I can’t.”

In every word of his reply, his enduring love for the art of Canada rings clear.

Click here and read an interview with Charlie Hill’s successor, Katerina Atanassova.

Article source: http://ottawacitizen.com/entertainment/local-arts/retiring-charlie-hill-looks-back-on-47-years-at-national-gallery


By Ali Akbar Dareini

TEHRAN, Iran - The number of foreigners visiting Iran jumped dramatically over the 12-month period ending in March, with 35 per cent more tourists compared to the same period a year earlier, Iran’s top tourism official said Saturday.

Masoud Soltanifar said on state TV that the thriving industry could help boost Iran’s economy out of recession and bring in much-needed hard currency. He said 4.5 million foreign tourists that came to the Islamic Republic over the period, bringing in some $6 billion in revenue.

He attributed the increase to the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, who has shifted away from the bombastic style adopted under his hard-line predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani, who has advocated for tourism, hopes it will boost the country’s image.

“The new government has employed a proper language in international relations, leading to growth in tourism,” Soltanifar said, adding that foreign tourists, most of whom are from neighbouring countries, spend about $1,500 each in Iran.

Looser visa policies have also helped. The government has instructed its embassies around the world to issue visas, especially for group tours, within less than a week, while in the past applications took over a month.

Tourism from Europe has grown 200 per cent, he said, thanks to fewer restrictions at embassies, especially in Germany.

Iran has 17 UNESCO-registered world heritage sites, and plans to host 20 million tourists a year by 2025, Soltanifar said, a sum that would fetch $30 billion annually.

That would require tripling the number of four- and five-star hotels, for which the government plans to offer incentives for investors to build.

“The government is ready to provide low-cost loan facilities out of the National Development Fund to investors,” Soltanifar said. “There is a strong government will to help promote tourism and good co-ordination is being developed among all sectors to make that happen,” he said.

Ebrahim Pourfaraj, a leading tour organizer, said all four- and five-star hotels at Iran’s three major tourist-destination cities of Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd have been sold out for 2014 and are now being booked for 2015.

One factor driving the surge is cost: Iran’s currency, the rial, has fallen sharply in value over the past years under international sanctions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. That makes top Iranian hotels cheaper compared to those in other countries, with a room at a four-star hotel in Yazd for example costing about $100 a night.

Article source: http://o.canada.com/travel/irans-top-tourism-official-reports-surge-in-number-of-foreigners-visiting-the-country


Bruges Belgium Getty Images

Bruges-based De Halve Maan brewery is building an underground pipeline to move beer from its brewery in the city center to its bottling facility a few miles away. It makes a lot of sense practically speaking, but let’s be honest: Most people are probably concerned with how they can sneakily drill into the ground and siphon off some brew for themselves. But before their plans can go horribly awry, De Halve Maan has to build the thing. And it’s going to be a lot harder than digging a trench, laying some pipe, and turning on the spigot. That’s because this is no ordinary construction area: Bruges’ entire city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s covered in medieval architecture.

De Halve Maan has been brewing in Bruges since the 1850s, and in 2010 opened a new bottling facility just outside the city center to accommodate growth. That created a logistical problem: To move four million liters of beer from the old site to the new each year, De Halve Maan used trucks, which burned fuel and clogged Bruges’ small, cobblestone streets.

Two years ago, the brewery started looking for a new way to make the trip, and someone suggested a pipeline under the city. It “seemed to be a kind of joke” at first, says owner and Managing Director Xavier Vanneste. But upon considering the idea more seriously, “we realized it was not so crazy after all.”

De Halve Maan brewing vats. De Halve Maan

This isn’t the world’s first beer pipeline: According to City Labs, Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company uses underground tubes to move beer across the street, from its brewery to its pub. But there’s a difference between tunneling under a Cleveland street and digging up a medieval city.

Vanneste and his team started by looking at the oil and gas industries, where pipelines are commonplace, to see if it was technically feasible. They discussed the idea with beer experts, to make sure shipping their good stuff underground wouldn’t ruin the flavor. (The only consideration is that too much pressure can affect flavor, so they won’t be pumping too fast.) Then, they turned to the local authorities, to start the process. That’s where things started to get tricky: Bruges has its heritage site status thanks medieval buildings that testify “to significant stages in the commercial and cultural development of medieval Europe.” And what does UNESCO list as one of the biggest threats to preservation? New construction.

Bruges, a few miles inland from the English Channel in northwest Belgium, has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age. The city was founded by Vikings in the ninth century, and really got going between 1200 and 1400, when it was “the economic capital of Europe north of the Alps,” according to UNESCO. In the following centuries, it was home to some of the great painters of the Flemish Primitive movement. It’s where the first books were printed in English and French. Many of the buildings constructed during its “golden age,” from the late 14th to early 16th century, still stand today, and the city is lauded for its influence on the development of architecture. Colin Farrell filmed In Bruges in Bruges. (It also has great beers and waffles to offer for those less intrigued by history.)

A resting horse feeds in the medieval old town of Bruges Belgium. Getty Images

All of that makes it a tricky place to dig up the ground to lay a beer pipeline. Town officials liked the idea, says Vanneste, but were quite “difficult on the idea of breaking up all the roads,” the risk of damaging historic sites, and increasing congestion with construction. They did approve the pipeline, which is expected to cut heavy truck use by 85 percent, in September. “It is a win-win situation for everyone,” says Franky Dumon, the alderman for spatial planning who approved the project on behalf of the city council. It helped that De Halve Maan has pledged to cover all associated costs, though Vanneste would not provide an estimated budget.

The pipeline will likely consist of four polyurethane tubes, each about four inches in diameter, since the brewery will be moving different types of beer, and sometimes water. Between batches of beer, it will wash out the pipes with a “clean-in-place” process that disinfects and sterilizes everything when necessary.)

But before construction begins, De Halve Maan has to negotiate the exact course it will take. While a straight shot from brewery to bottling facility would be the quickest way to go, it’s totally unfeasible. The pipeline has to be built under public land, otherwise the brewery would need permission from a go-ahead from each individual property owner. Even under roads and public parks, there are centuries-old historic sites to avoid. There are more practical obstacles, too, like canals, major traffic crossings, and sites where things like underground garages will be built in the future. Utilities should be simple to avoid, as most of them are at pretty shallow depths. (The depth of the beer pipeline will range between 1 and 30 meters.) Then there’s the chance the drilling process will stumble across something like the ruins of an unknown ancient castle. Fortunately, Bruges’ history and archaeological sites are well mapped, so Vanneste says a new discovery, which would derail the digging, is unlikely.

Once the pipeline’s course is set, things should be pretty easy. De Halve Maan will use a computer-guided drill that can travel 300 meters underground at a time. That way, it won’t have to break up the cobblestone streets along the whole route, just at strategic points.

Vanneste says the route should be finalized in the next few months, and the pipeline should be in place and running by the end of 2015. Then everyone in Bruges can enjoy the drop in traffic and start dreaming about their great underground beer heist.

Article source: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/how-to-build-a-beer-pipeline-under-bruges-a-unesco-world-heritage-site/

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Related Story: Fear-gauge flashes wild week on Wall Street

The stock market had another turbulent session Friday, capping off one of the more eventful weeks on Wall Street in years.

The Dow Jones industrial average soared more than 250 points following strong earnings from Morgan Stanley, General Electric and Textron, as well as some encouraging U.S. economic reports.

It was the latest big move for a market which, with a few exceptions, has been on a mostly downward track. Stocks have had four weeks of declines, leaving the Standard Poor’s 500 index 6 percent below the record high it set Sept. 18.

Investors have been riding wild market swings for much of the week. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged as much as 460 points Wednesday, then had one of its best days of the year on Friday.

“We had indiscriminate selling all week, and then today we had indiscriminate buying,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.

Some local investment professionals are keeping close watch on the recent up-and-down movement of the stock market.

“We were really concerned because we’ve got a lot of clients and know they have been concerned. They are living on this money, and they are thinking, ‘Is this another 2008 credit crisis?’ ” said James “Skip” Nichols, president of Financial Planning Resources Inc. in Tulsa.

On Thursday, his firm met with five money managers and talked with some via phone, who all view this recent correction as healthy and a great buying opportunity, Nichols said. They thought oil, technology, some health-care and pharmaceutical stocks had all gotten a little pricey.

“They were almost giddy,” Nichols said.

One money manager even noted that this current bull market might rival the bull market between 1982 and 1990, which experienced a couple of corrections but overall averaged about a 15 percent increase per year, Nichols said.

This recent decline is based more on emotion, but the overall bull market is really based on fundamentals, Nichols said. Corporations and their profits are much healthier now than they were back in 2006 or 2007.

He compares the current stock market to being in the fifth or sixth inning of a nine-inning baseball game. “We think there is still a lot to go in this bull market that we’re in right now and that this is just a temporary respite,” Nichols said.

Bruce DeShazo, vice president of American Heritage Investments at American Heritage Bank in Oklahoma, likewise doesn’t think the current bull market is over.

“I wouldn’t change anything just because of what happened. I don’t know if we’ve reached a bottom, but I believe the bull market will continue because there are a lot of positive economic things going on in our country,” DeShazo said.

Many things can make the market volatile, and recent news about weakness in Europe, oil price declines, weak retail sales have affected a lot of stocks. Also, the constant barrage of fear about Ebola affects some people mentally, DeShazo said

In the last couple of days, however, there has been encouraging news such as an increase in housing starts, increased corporate earnings and some talk that the Fed may continue its bond buying stimulus — any of which could be contributing to the market’s upswing, DeShazo noted.

Market watchers have warned investors to expect more volatility than they have been used to in recent months, reflecting the heightened concerns about weaker growth in Europe and what it could mean for U.S. corporate profits, as well as plunging oil prices.

The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 263.17 points, or 1.6 percent, to 16,380.41 Friday. The Standard Poor’s 500 index rose 24 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,886.76 and the Nasdaq composite rose 41.05 points, or 1 percent, to 4,258.44.

On Friday, investors rallied behind a group of corporate earnings results.

General Electric rose 2.4 percent after the company reported third-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ forecasts, citing improved performance in its aviation and oil and gas divisions. GE has a broad range of businesses that cover so many parts of the economy, from banking to building nuclear reactors, that investors see its results as a bellwether for how U.S. industry is doing. GE rose 57 cents to $24.82.

Textron, another industrial conglomerate, had the second-biggest gain in the SP 500 index after its own earnings came in far ahead of what analysts were expecting. Textron rose $2.99, or 9 percent, to $36.65.

Investors also had two pieces of positive economic data to work through.

A survey by the University of Michigan showed consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose last month to 86.4, much higher than the 84.3 expected by economists. It was the highest reading for that survey since July 2007, right before the Great Recession.

The Commerce Department reported that construction firms broke ground on more apartment complexes in September, up 6.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.017 million homes.

On Friday, oil prices rose slightly, but were still down 4 percent for the week on prospects of lower demand from a slowing global economy and high supplies.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 5 cents to close at $82.75 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 34 cents to close at $86.16 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

In other energy futures trading on the NYMEX, wholesale gasoline rose 2.2 cents to close at $2.233 a gallon, heating oil rose 2.8 cents to close at $2.498 a gallon and natural gas fell 3 cents to close at $3.766 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Tulsa World Business Writer Laurie Winslow contributed to this report

Article source: http://www.tulsaworld.com/businesshomepage3/stock-market-rebounds-to-end-wild-week/article_41109ac7-3453-58e0-aa23-d4e6c963c9ac.html

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When Islamic State fighters capture an archaeological site, they’re faced with a series of choices. Do they destroy it or sell its artifacts? If they decide it’s idolatrous, do they extort protection money for it from the Shiite, Sufi, Yazidi, or other religious minority group that values it? Or do they demolish it right away and feature the demolition in their propaganda? If they loot it, do they ransack the place themselves or do they hire others to do it? Or do they tax the opportunistic looters who show up?

Actually, all of the above is going on. How the self-proclaimed Islamic State militant group approaches each site depends on a range of factors, including the area’s land ownership system and the payoff of plundering the site, says Michael Danti, one of the archaeologists leading a U.S. government-funded effort to document the destruction and looting of the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria.

At a time when the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, and other groups are killing, enslaving, and displacing thousands of people across Syria and Iraq, what happens to ancient artifacts may seem like a sideshow. But according to Danti, who is also a professor at Boston University, ISIS’s profits from looting are second only to the revenue the group derives from illicit oil sales. So understanding the Islamic State’s approach to the fate of ancient artifacts actually could be key to stopping its advance.

“What we have from the satellite imagery is that there is industrial-scale looting all over Syria,” said Danti, a leader of an American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) project that in August received U.S. State Department funding to document cultural heritage threats in Syria. During the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September, Secretary of State John Kerry personally thanked Danti in a speech at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the project expanded into Iraq.

It’s often difficult to definitively determine who is responsible for an instance of looting. Both the Syrian government and rebel groups have taken part, as have locals in both Syria and Iraq whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the conflict. Satellite images and informants on the ground often can’t keep up with the pace of looting and of the exchange of territory between various groups.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that the scale of the Islamic State’s destruction, looting, and profits from antiquities trafficking is “unprecedented,” Danti said.

ASOR’s Syrian Heritage Initiative uses satellite images such as these, taken at a site in Syria on January 2012 and March 2014, to understand where and on what scale looting is taking place. Click on each photo to see a larger version.

Amr Al-Azm, an archaeologist at Shawnee State University in Ohio who is also leading efforts to document looting in the region, agreed. At first, the Islamic State simply asked anyone who chose to loot areas it controlled for khums, a tax on the spoils of war paid in Islamic tradition to the government. But by this summer, Al-Azm said, ISIS started taking a more deliberate approach, actively employing contractors to do the excavation. These contractors take some of the profits, and the rest goes to the Islamic State. “It’s part of a growing escalation,” he said.

It’s essentially impossible to estimate the total profits the group is making off of antiquities. Looting appears, though, to be not only the second-most profitable source of ISIS income, but also the second-most common form of employment the group offers in the war-torn areas it controls, Danti said, citing local sources whose identities he couldn’t reveal because he fears for their safety.

“The most recent reports I’m getting is that ISIS is actually engaging itself: They’re hiring their own people, they’re using a lot of earth-moving equipment — bulldozers, et cetera,” Al-Azm said. “So what I can tell you is they’re making enough to make it worth their while.” Although Al-Azm and Danti were very hesitant to give any estimates, others have reported that the group’s earnings from antiquities are surely worth millions, helping make the Islamic State the world’s richest terror group. One lion sculpture from the region eventually sold for more than $50 million in New York in 2007. Most items looted by ISIS haven’t yet appeared on public, international markets, but they may well eventually sell for comparable prices.

At the same time, ISIS is apparently plundering strategically, Danti said. In this, it has probably learned from al Qaeda’s experience in Iraq’s Anbar province around 2006, when local Sunni tribal leaders became fed up with al Qaeda’s rapaciousness and turned against the group, he said. Islamic State leaders “don’t want to be seen as disenfranchising or upsetting powerful Sunni tribal leaders who are frequently the large landowners,” and they try to base their division of the spoils on Islamic law.

When it comes to non-Sunni artifacts, Danti recently heard that there is disagreement within the Islamic State’s sharia courts as to how much they should destroy and how much they should sell and profit from. The group is more likely to destroy Shiite, Yazidi, and Sufi artifacts and sell pre-Islamic ones, but overall, “They’re probably selling most of it,” he said.

The looting itself usually happens in a matter of days. Much of the digging is probably done by local people who are “just trying to feed their families,” Danti said. The Islamic State profits nearly immediately, selling the goods to middlemen who then smuggle them into neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

But fencing the antiquities takes much longer, and that means that once they leave Syria and Iraq it becomes more difficult to determine their fate. Some middlemen belong to organized crime syndicates that smuggle a range of things — electronics, people, antiquities — and have done so since long before the rise of the Islamic State. That traffic, along with the illegal arms flowing in the opposite direction, is a large part of why control of border locales such as Kobani is so strategically important, Danti said.

In some ways, it’s easier for the international community to intervene once artifacts leave ISIS-controlled areas. Concerned observers can try to raise awareness and exert moral pressure on collectors not to buy likely trafficked items. Those efforts can help bring down the market value of trafficked artifacts, eventually making them less attractive to loot in the first place.

A U.N. resolution in 2003 banning trade in Iraqi antiquities somewhat dampened looting during the Iraq War, and cultural heritage experts and activists are now urging the U.N. to pass a similar measure banning trade in antiquities from Syria. James Sadri of the Syria Campaign, one of the groups involved in the effort, told Foreign Policy that nearly 18,000 people had signed the petition, which will be delivered to U.N. missions in New York this week.

“With well over 200 of the world’s foremost experts in the field calling on the U.N. to ban this trade, it’s getting increasingly difficult for politicians to ignore the campaign,” Sadri stated. “It’s not just about protecting world heritage, it’s also about protecting life — we know that the sale of these antiquities is funding weapons that are fueling the violence in Syria.”

International lawyer and Georgetown professor Mark Vlasic, meanwhile, is calling for not just governments but also private collectors, auction houses, and others involved in the antiquities trade to meet and agree to practices to impede further looting.

But the murkiness around what happens to artifacts once they leave Syria or Iraq makes these international agreements harder to implement. In the short term, they may cause middlemen to hold onto the artifacts until the furor has died down — which generally takes several years. Most of what was plundered from Iraq between 2003 and 2005 is only now appearing in aboveground international markets, the main exception being when a particular collector has a request out for a specific kind of artifact, according to Danti.

“The material is gradually, incrementally laundered in the world-antiquities market, and it becomes very difficult to establish when, where, who, what, why at that point in time,” Danti said. “So we’ve got to chronicle everything we can now so we can try to determine what was stolen by whom and even try to get the slightest inclination as to where they’re going.”

According to cultural heritage attorney Rick St. Hilaire, however, it looks like at least some recently looted items are making their way to the United States. “American imports of art, collections, and collectors’ pieces, and antiques from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey increased sharply between 2011 and 2013, prompting questions about whether trafficked heritage has piggybacked onto the mainstream marketplace,” St. Hilaire wrote last week.

St. Hilaire found that the aggregate value of art, collections, and collectors’ pieces imported from those countries rose 86 percent from 2011 to 2013, with a nearly 500 percent increase in the value of imports from Iraq between 2012 and 2013. Of those imports, 93 percent “were declared to be antiques over 100 years old, begging the question of whether nearly $18 million worth of great grandmothers’ rocking chairs and similar items were shipped to America or whether the imports may have been ancient archaeological artifacts misclassified as ‘antiques,’” St. Hilaire wrote. “Commodities declared by importers to be antiques from Iraq and Syria rocketed skyward by 672 percent and 133 percent, respectively, from 2012 to 2013.”

As during the earlier Iraq conflict, many of these apparently looted items are fakes — but some are probably real. Traffickers have been known to slip antiquities imports under the radar of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the past, St. Hilaire notes, “surreptitiously labeling Hindu idols as ‘handicrafts,’ or “affixing ‘Made in Thailand’ stickers on ancient Ban Chiang pots to make them appear modern.”

Brandon Montgomery, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an email that ICE’s investigatory arm is “aware that Syrian and Iraqi cultural heritage treasures may surface, but ICE will not confirm or deny any possible ongoing investigation.” The U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Others in the U.S. government are concerned that current efforts aren’t enough. Rep. William Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat and the ranking member on the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called evidence of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities increasingly showing up in the United States a “disconcerting development” and said it “implies not only an uptick in the illicit trade of these items, but links the destruction, plundering, and looting of cultural heritage sites to potential buyers in the United States who may be funding terrorist activities in the Middle East.” Keating is working on proposals to strengthen cooperation between government bodies to combat antiquities trafficking.

As international efforts move slowly forward, leaders of the government-backed ASOR project are trying to make it easier and safer for people within Syria and Iraq to report looting. Andy Vaughn, ASOR’s executive director, said the project is developing a web app through which people can file incident reports. But before the app goes live, it needs more work to ensure that it can’t be hacked, endangering the people notifying authorities.

It’s likely that for a long time, obtaining and sharing this information will continue to be a very risky business. “The real heroes of the story are those people on the ground,” Al-Azm said.

ASOR’s Syrian Heritage Initiative/Directorate-General of Antiquities Museums, Syria

Article source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/10/17/the_black_market_battleground_syria_iraq_isis

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The Ross County Historical Society’s 2014 Fall Speakers Series will offer a variety of history and prehistory programs beginning Oct. 23 with “The GI Offensive in Europe during World War II.”

Featured in the opening lecture of the series will be Peter Mansoor, a retired U.S. Army colonel and the General Raymond E. Mason Jr. chairman of Military History at Ohio State University.

Mansoor will provide a comprehensive look at how the U.S. Army succeeded in defeating the German army during World War II by developing combat effective infantry and armored divisions that could not only fight and win battles, but also sustain that effort over years of combat.

Mansoor is a 1982 distinguished graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. During his 26-year career in the U.S. Army, he served in a variety of command and staff positions in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. He commanded the First Brigade, First Armored Division from 2003 to 2005, including 13 months of combat in Iraq.

He went on to serve as the executive officer to General David Petraeus, the commanding general of Multi-National Force-Iraq. He also is the author of several books on military history, including “The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945.”

The program, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Ross County Heritage Center at 45 W. Fifth St. Refreshments will be served.

The Ross County Historical Society also will host the following two programs as part of its 2014 Fall Speakers Series:

• “Understanding Ross County’s Prehistoric Past through Artifacts,” will feature Gary Argabright, retired educator, collector and authority on prehistoric cultures of the Scioto River Valley.

Argabright will discuss Ross County’s place in the understanding of North America’s prehistoric people and the Ross County Historical Society’s role in preserving and disseminating a record of it. Argabright has been collecting, cataloging and researching Native American artifacts from the Scioto River Valley for more than 35 years. He has accumulated and documented artifacts from about 60 area sites.

Argabright has been actively involved in the Mound City Chapter of the Archaeological Society of Ohio since 1987 and currently serves as its secretary and treasurer. He also served on the Historical Society’s board of trustees for nine years, led its collections committee and assisted with updating and renovating the museum’s prehistoric artifact exhibit.

Argabright continues to help with the care and study of the society’s prehistoric artifact collection and will use items from the collection in his presentation at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5, which will highlight the development of prehistoric stone tools and how they were used.

• “Ho for Mexico! Ohio’s Role in the War with Mexico, 1846-48,” will be presented by Larry Strayer, author, collector and historian from Dayton.

Strayer gave a presentation on Ohio during the War of 1812 as part of the Ross County Historical Society’s 2012 Fall Speakers Series. This time, he returns to speak on Ohio’s participation in the Mexican War from 1846 to 1848.

Ohio raised, trained and equipped five full infantry regiments, contributed five regular Army companies, a company of U.S. volunteers and more than a dozen independent military companies — a contribution that greatly exceeded more populous eastern states.

Almost all of these troops were ordered to Mexico, and three Ohio-raised regiments fought in pitched battles against Mexican Regulars: the First Ohio Infantry at the Battle of Monterey, the “Bloody Fifteenth” regulars in the Mexico City campaign and the U.S. Mounted Rifles in countless other engagements.

The presentation, which is at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19, will include a discussion of weaponry and a display of original museum-quality firearms, equipment and garments.

Article source: http://www.chillicothegazette.com/story/entertainment/2014/10/15/fall-speakers-series-hits-wide-topic-range/17329321/

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