Archaeology professor Brian Rose wants to make sure ancient artifacts stay in their rightful homes -- even if those homes are in war zones.
Rose, who has worked on excavation sites around the world, is trying to ensure that military personnel on duty treat valuable artifacts with respect.
He was struck by the problem after hearing of famous museums and archeological sites in Iraq and Afghanistan being looted by locals in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.
Priceless works of art, Rose said, were showing up around the world, many of them being sold on the auction Web site eBay.com.
"A lot of the pieces [on eBay] may be from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, but if no inventory number is written on them, you can't prove it," he said. "And if you can't prove it, then [selling them] is legal."
He realized, he said, that he should go straight to the troops themselves.
His solution was a lecture series that showed Marines exactly how to properly treat archaeological artifacts.
"Anytime you have the breakdown of authority in a country you have looting, especially of archaeological sites," Rose said. "Antiquities always rise in value ... even more during a depression or recession."
Rose worked with the United States Central Command, which is responsible for military forces in both countries, to set up the program at military bases across the country
The program started last spring at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
"It seemed to me that since our troops are now the guardians of the civilizations of the ancient Near East ... they nevertheless have become the guardians" of the artifacts located there as well, he said.
And Rose isn't alone in believing that protecting artifacts is important and valuable.
"We think that through education this will help the troops do their job better" and have a better relationship with the local people, said Fred Hiebert, an archaeologist for the National Geographic Society and a former Penn professor who does research similar to Rose's.
"I consider it to be one of the most important things that the archaeological community can do," he added.
In addition to leaving a string of looted museums, the selling of stolen antiquities can help fund terrorist organizations, Rose added.
"It's very much a part of terrorism. People sell these antiquities, and they use it to fund terrorist goals of their own," he said. "Marines have found stolen antiquities together with whole caches of weapons and bombs."
In his lectures, Rose said, he emphasizes that stealing priceless works of art detracts from a nation's cultural history.
"Sites are being destroyed, which means that history, in a sense, is being murdered," he said. I would "speak to the troops about the cultural heritage of the Middle East ... so that they could be more aware of the issues of looting and the importance of maintaining the context of these objects."
Rose said he also highlights the importance in world history of the region containing Iraq, which was the site of many of the world's earliest civilizations.
The region also saw the first writing, books, schools and calendars, Rose said.
"I try to emphasize what has been stolen, the value of those objects that have been stolen and the way that these objects relate to ancient religion," he said.
School of Arts and Sciences Dean Rebecca Bushnell said that this work has great importance for society as well as for Penn.
"We've learned in modern political experiences ... that you can't ignore the past," she said. Rose's work is "representative of work of the School of Arts and Sciences faculty, where we take the work of the past and make it relevant today."
Of course, Brian Rose is known for his excavation work at Troy ...