In 2008, SAFE presented the organization and gave out the SAFE Beacon Awards in Chicago.

08-419chicago Sometimes, if you want something accomplished, you’ve got to do it on a BIG scale. For SAFE, that meant taking the message of protecting cultural heritage and stopping the illicit antiquities trade to the masses. So when theArchaeological Institute of America (AIA), the oldest archaeological organization in the US, announced that their 2008 meeting would be in Chicago, a group of dedicated SAFE members formed the SAFE AIA team, and worked for months organizing every aspect of SAFE’s presence at the conference.

Over four days at the Regency Hyatt on Chicago’s Lake Shore, SAFE used its booth to raise awareness, host events, and, of course, hand out hundreds of those stylish SAFE buttons. Read on for a play-by-play of the overwhelmingly successful weekend:

This movie playing at the SAFE Booth continuously helped draw crowds to our activities.


08aia-programThe exhibitors’ area was scheduled to open at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so SAFE volunteers were there bright and early to set up the booth. SAFE’s booth was definitely the most dynamic in the whole room. It featured a table full of colorful brochures and postcards, an eye-catching banner with artwork by SAFE Student Competition Winner Nicola Kountoupes and a white backdrop for movie screenings and presentations.

The members of the SAFE AIA team came from all parts of the world, and though the volunteers had spent months communicating with each other via e-mail and phone while planning for the conference, some had never met face-to-face until this weekend! Setting up the booth that morning was a great way to bond and work out the last-minute logistics. An impromptu lunch at a nearby sandwich place gave the team more time to get to know each other and fuel up for the day ahead!

That afternoon, the exhibitors’ area was open for only three hours, from 2 to 5. Despite the short timeframe and the small number of people browsing the booths (many conference attendees did not arrive until the following morning), SAFE still had a successful afternoon, signing up new members, answering visitors’ questions and using the booth’s backdrop to screen the documentary Robbing the Cradle of Civilization. Many of the conference attendees who stopped by that afternoon returned over the rest of the weekend to talk more with the SAFE AIA team and attend events at the booth.

A delicious dinner at a local Indian restaurant capped off an exciting first day for the team.


As Friday was the first full day of the conference, the SAFE AIA team prepared itself that morning to spread the word to even more people. The morning had a great kick-off with a talk by Dr. Geoff Emberling, director of the Oriental Institute Museum, who spoke about museums and the issues of collecting and displaying archaeological artifacts. He then took questions from an audience of dozens of interested visitors.

Dr. Geoff Emberling

Director of Oriental Institute Museum Geoff Emberling

Next in SAFE’s schedule of events on Friday was Corine Wegener, a SAFE member and president of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. Ms. Wegener’s talk covered issues reagrding protecting cultural heritage during times of war. She also spoke to and took questions from a rapt audience, and displayed slides as part of her presentation.

Throughout the day, SAFE’s volunteers handed out literature and talked to the conference attendees about our mission and projects. More people signed up for membership, taking advantage of a special 2-for-1 membership deal to sign up their friends as well. Archaeologists picked up SAFE’s distinctive red buttons and sported them on lapels, tote bags and conference badges.

Corine Wegener and Marion Forsyth

Guest speakers Corine Wegener and Marion Forsyth

During the afternoon, SAFE hosted a different kind of event: a workshop for conference attendees, entitled “Archaeological Site Preservation: Approaches and Advances.” Held in one of the Hyatt’s conference rooms, the workshop was led by SAFE’s Alexandra Cleworth and Elizabeth Gilgan, and featured speakers from HeritageWatch, the Field Museum of Natural History, the National Park Service, Oberlin College, Stony Brook University, and Restoring Ancient Stabiae. The workshop was very well attended, and archaeologists had the chance to learn about different techniques to safeguard archaeological excavation and heritage sites.

Friday ended on a high note with another movie screening, of the award-winning documentary On the Trail of Tomb Robbers, and a third guest speaker at the booth, Blythe Bowman. Blythe, a criminologist from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, addressed the criminal aspects of the antiquities trade, captivating visitors with examples of the links between looting and organized crime circles around the world.


Saturday was the busiest day of the conference, and our booth continued to swarm with activity. As the only group in the entire exhibition area with audio-visual elements and guest speakers at their booth, SAFE attracted a huge crowd, many of whom became members, and all of whom walked away with a red SAFE button. Others came by to buy SAFE t-shirts and books: Roger Atwood’s Stealing History and Matthew Bogdanos’ Thieves of Baghdad.”Booth volunteers had the chance to meet a number of other SAFE members from around the country face-to-face for the very first time. The SAFE AIA team also spoke with archaeologists who use SAFE’s materials in their classrooms to teach about cultural heritage issues, and those who planned to do so in the future.

Nathan Elkins, a numismatist, was the guest speaker of the day, and he gripped the crowd with his talk on the consequences of collecting undocumented coins. Mr. Elkins speech was an expert look at what has recently become a very hot-button issue.

SAFE wrapped up the afternoon with several more documentary screenings, then the team members left to prepare for the 2008 SAFE Beacon Awards reception in the Hyatt’s Plaza Ballroom. The reception, which honored Dr. Neil Brodie and Dr. Donny George, was a smash success.


On the last day of the conference, the exhibition area was only open for a few hours in the morning, but SAFE continued as usual, with Marion Forsyth of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation stopping by to answer visitors’ questions about the legal issues connected with antiquities and other types of cultural property. SAFE also sold a few last-minute tickets to that afternoon’s eagerly-anticipated event: the Oriental Institute tours with Donny George.

Conference attendees met members of the SAFE community

Conference attendees met members of the SAFE community including Nathan Elkins, Blythe Bowman, Jessica Dietzler, Keli Liu, Rachel Moland, Sarah Pickman, Rob Wanner, Jessica Facciponti, LiLing Choo and others.

Later that day, dozens of archaeologists from the conference caught cabs to the Oriental Institute Museum on Chicago’s South Side for a chance to hear Dr. Donny George lead a tour of the Museum’s extensive-and ethically collected-collection of Near Eastern artifacts. Dr. George, a Beacon Award winner, was the former director of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. He witnessed its horrific looting, and also spearheaded the effort to bring the looting to the public eye and to have the stolen artifacts returned. He gave his unique perspective on the Institute’s collection in two hour-and-a-half long tours. Thanks to coverage in the local press, the AIA archaeologists were joined by many interested non-archaeologists from the Chicago area. SAFE organized the tours, and proceeds went to SAFE and the Oriental Institute.

All in all, SAFE’s presence at the 2008 AIA Annual Meeting was an overwhelming success. Thanks to the hard work of many SAFE volunteers, we were able to sign up dozens of new members, host many exciting and unique events, and spread the word to hundreds of people.

Thank you for a job well done, SAFE AIA Team Members:
Cynthia Bates, Blythe Bowman, Lilling Choo, Jessica Dietzler, Jessica Facciponti, Nathan Elkins, Keli Liu, Rachel Moland, Marina Papa-Sokal, Sarah Pickman, Genevieve Semple, Therese Rohrbeck, Rebecca Rushfield, Rob Wanner, David Yoon