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UK Monuments Men bid to save sites

Published 21/06/2015

The British Museum has lobbied the Government to help save historic sites from Islamic State destruction.
The British Museum has lobbied the Government to help save historic sites from Islamic State destruction.

Britain is to back a modern-day group of "Monuments Men" to salvage historic sites at risk from destruction by the Islamic State (IS).

The Government is helping bankroll a team of "rescue archaeologists" to lead efforts to save priceless artefacts in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale will host a summit on the issue later this year and is setting up a cultural protection fund to underpin the action.

After pressure from the British Museum among others, the UK is signing up to the Hague convention on the protection of cultural property in armed conflict.

IS has deliberately demolished ancient mosques and destroyed treasures dating back to ancient Persia and Greco-Roman times on the grounds that they "promote idolatry".

Last month, fighters overran the Syrian town of Palmyra and a 1,900-year-old God Lion statue is already said to have been smashed.

Curators from the UK will coordinate with counterparts in Iraq, Syria and Libya to identify items that could be rescued.

They will also make digital recordings of ancient sites to assist restoration - or at the very least allow future generations to view their lost heritage.

The budget for the fund has yet to be decided.

The scheme is reminiscent of the George Clooney film Monuments Men, which was loosely based on the real-life story of a unit tasked with rescuing artefacts from the Nazis during the Second World War.

Mr Whittingdale said: 'While the UK's priority will continue to be the human cost of these conflicts,

"I am in no doubt we must also do what we can to prevent any further cultural destruction.

"The loss of a country's heritage threatens its very identity."

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