Canadian Underwriter

Insurance should have a role in preserving antiquities

June 30, 2015   by Jeff Pearce

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As you read this, ISIS may have already destroyed much of Palmyra, a place with ruins so beautiful some call it “the Venice of the Sands.” If this happens, I will either be miserable with frustrated rage or feeling sick. I’ve never been there, but it doesn’t matter. I had hoped one day to see it. And if you think the destruction shouldn’t concern you because it involves an obscure dead culture in Syria, I pity you. The P&C business is not merely about replacing what is lost; it can and should serve as a monetary lever to motivate protection and preservation. Yet certain U.S. media operations demand to know why the ruins should be saved at all, given that so many innocent civilians are at risk.

Clemens Reichel, assistant professor of Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Toronto, points out that “antiquities equal, in most people’s minds, material value. And so the archaeologist gets turned into a materialist who seems to care more about material value than human life.” If he cared that much about the monetary value, he says, he’d be an antiquities dealer. It’s the intrinsic connection between the cultures and people now there that makes them valuable. “It’s what we learn about our own past that makes it meaningful.”

It also shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. This “actually offends me more,” says Reichel, “since this question is generally not even posed by the people who are the most affected.” The Syrian department of antiquities has done its best to remove invaluable treasures before ISIS can get their mitts on them. “So they were making a conscious choice in putting their mission, the preservation of cultural heritage, so high on the agenda that they possibly could be killed as well. And I think this deserves our respect and not our scorn.”

The true riddle of the sands today is not who built the world’s heritage of ruins but who can keep them safe. Here is another crisis where the global insurance industry should play an advocacy role. Instead of museums and institutions paying outrageously expensive sums for acquisitions, which in turn only helps fund the black market, Reichel is an advocate of “a longterm loan system in which you take custody of artifacts” for long-term exhibits, and the insurance industry should get behind this idea. I hope to explore all this in our magazine soon, but it’ll have to wait until after I get back from my summer vacation—some of which, coincidentally, will be spent in Iraq.

Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the June / July 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.