Protecting the Finest Roman Mosaic Collection in the World: Cultural Heritage and Its "Protection" from the Case of Zeugma, southeast Turkey.

Mr Eisuke Tanaka

Saturday, 16 June, 2007; 7:45-9:00pm

Seminar room, No1. Newnham Terrace, Darwin College

In recent years, issues surrounding "cultural heritage" have attracted much public attention. UNESCO promotes campaigns for protecting cultural manifestations both tangible and intangible as "world heritage." Looting archaeological sites for international art market is featured by mass media as the "destruction" of "heritage." Some nation-states request for the return of "their" cultural heritage to Euro-American museums (e.g. the Parthenon Marbles debates). In such contexts, things marked as "cultural heritage" are considered to belong not only to a particular community (i.e. a nation or an ethnic group) but also to humanity as a whole. This in fact complicates the discussions on who has the right to control over the objects in question.
This talk will explore how different agencies spell out their interests in the control over cultural heritage, and in what way discussions between these groups are framed. In doing so, it focuses on how the significance of protecting such objects is articulated by the groups involved in these issues (e.g. the locals, archaeologists, the state, international agencies). I will explore by considering an ancient Roman city remains of Zeugma on the Euphrates, southeast Turkey, where archaeologists recently discovered a set of extremely well-preserved Roman mosaics. Since then, issues surrounding the protection of the Roman mosaics have attracted both Turkish and international media attention.
By analysing how the Zeugma mosaics came to be recognized not only as Turkey's important "heritage" but also as "heritage of humanity," my talk will examine in what ways those who claim the control over these mosaics deploy the idea of protection to justify their claims. I will discuss how different claims for controlling things marked as "heritage" are connected and differentiated through the idea of protection which is seen as a good in itself.