SAFE Beacon Awards: Who is…? But why?

Megan GannonCommentary, SAFECORNERLeave a Comment

In anticipation of our Beacon Awards event, SAFE has launched a new batch of Who is…? campaigns, which profile individuals making tangible contributions towards our mission: protecting and raising awareness about our shared cultural heritage.

But we realize that our “Who is…?” begs another question: Why?

The easy answer is that superheroes like our SAFE Beacon Award winners deserve recognition for their incredible work.

The more complicated answer is that our award winners, well, are not superheroes. SAFE is not handing out awards to the likes of Lara Croft or Indiana Jones for making us endlessly answer to their portrayals of archaeologists (or archaeology’s worst nightmares?). Instead we are honoring unsung heroes with real lives, families, careers, principles, and motivations behind them.

Certainly, fictional heroes can lend a welcome cloak of sexiness to a sometimes-unsexy field. And they can be inspiring. Christopher Heaney, a former SAFE volunteer, devoted the first few pages of his excellent debut book, Cradle of Gold, to Indy and the iconic big screen moments that first sparked his interest in archaeology.

Heaney even calls the subject of his work, Hiram Bingham, a “Real-Life Indiana Jones,” and for good reason, too. Bingham was an academic and explorer of the early 20th century, equipped with a pith helmet and a gun.

He made major contributions to the growing field of Latin American studies and worked his way through the Peruvian Andes to rediscover the most famous lost city of the Incas — Machu Picchu. Bingham’s questionable archaeological practices, however, fueled the emotional debate over Yale’s collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts.

So how many more “Real-Life Indiana Jonses” do we need today? Some of our Beacon Award winners have found themselves working undercover with smugglers in Peru, and all have taken enormous risks, at times, putting their careers and lives on the line. But their boulder chases and snake pits sometimes look more like pesky bureaucrats and thousands of pages of federal code.

We congratulate Robert K. Wittman, Robert E. Goldman, James E. McAndrew, and David Hall – our 2010 SAFE Beacon Award Winners. We hope you’ll keep checking our website to find out who they really are, and that you’ll join us at our awards ceremony on October 29th!


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Megan Gannon

Megan Gannon, a writer employed by NewsCore, studied English and Art History at New York University. Her archaeological field school experience in Western Cyprus inspired her to start thinking about cultural heritage and the legal issues surrounding it. She is particularly interested in how looting and the illicit antiquities market are portrayed in news media and pop culture. She plans to go to law school.

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