Dr Peter Stone


The protection of cultural property during armed conflict: 21st century reaction to an age-old problem


Cultural property (not only archaeological sites but archives, library and museum collections, and art) is always damaged and destroyed during conflict – it is what happens, and there is nothing that can be done about it. However, a proportion of such damage and destruction is frequently avoidable and has been regarded as bad practice by military theorists for over 2,000 years.

In the last century, during both the First and Second World Wars military units were created to try to protect cultural property. These were largely broken up at the end of the Second World War and, despite the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols of 1954 and 1999, the military - and heritage community - essentially forgot the importance of trying to protect cultural property during conflict. It was only following the disastrous destruction and looting that followed the war in the former Yugoslavia and the 2003 invasion of Iraq that the issue returned to the agenda. 

This presentation will briefly outline some of the history of cultural property protection (CPP) and then review the activity of the UN, UNESCO, and Blue Shield (created in 1996 as an advisory body to UNESCO on CPP) trying to mitigate damage, destruction, and theft of cultural property in the event of armed conflict.



Dr Peter Stone is the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace at Newcastle University in the UK (the only such Chair in the world); Chair of the UK Committee of the Blue Shield; and Vice President of Blue Shield International. He was previously Head of the School of Arts and Cultures and Professor of Heritage Studies in the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University, UK.

In 2003 he was advisor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence regarding the identification and protection of the archaeological cultural heritage in Iraq. He has remained active in working with the military to refine attitudes and develop processes for the better protection of cultural property in times of conflict. He has written extensively on this topic including co-editing, with Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq (2008), that won the prestigious 2011 James R Wiseman Award of the Archaeological Institute of America, and editing Cultural Heritage, Ethics and the Military (2011). His article ‘The 4 Tier approach’ led directly to the establishment of a Joint Service Cultural Property Protection Unit in UK forces to become operational in 2020/21.