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Member of the Month, Pt 1: Dr Sam Hardy

October 24, 2014

Sam writes:

Just as I’ve fallen backwards into most of my career, I started it by accident. I was interested in history and forensics, so stared at my options, shrugged, split the difference and applied for archaeology; then I cocked up my A-levels and got into Sheffield through clearing (about which I still could not be happier). There, I lucked out again when my school French was so poor that I couldn’t get a place on a dig in France, because I was told there was a place on a dig in Greece. I ended up working there for four summers – and falling in love with the country (and the entire region).
Since it cost the same to fly to Italy and travel down as it did to fly directly to Greece, and it cost the same to travel around between activities as it did to go home then come back out again, I took the opportunity to see a little of south-eastern Europe. In Sarajevo, I walked up a hill to get a view over the city, but found a ruined home, inside which graffiti implored the reader to “write about us, stop [an]other genocide”. I don’t know why, exactly, but it really affected me and stuck with me. Because I was interested in and concerned by the convoluted histories that I saw being written around me – and because I didn’t have a head for names or numbers – I ended up working on the politics and ethics of cultural heritage work.
I did my MA in cultural heritage (at UCL) in 2003-2004, in the shadow of the (that) Iraq War. Heavily engaged in professional discussions regarding the clash between poor and insecure people’s economic rights and looted antiquities’ source communities’ cultural rights, I did my dissertation on the apparently controversial idea of a human right to loot.
I planned to do my doctorate (at Sussex) on peace education at historic sites in Kosovo but, throughout my MSc, there had been increasing reports of violence. Naturally, I went. There, people told me that it was a good idea, but a bad time – I could do it, but I would go home in a box. Equally naturally, I left. I hastily rewrote my proposal for Cyprus and went there instead.
Still, in Cyprus, I couldn’t get people to talk with me about peace education at historic sites (though, after that, through the work that I was able to do, I met or saw the work of a very committed community). I tried to explore the destruction, and got fobbed off with propaganda or (more often) stonewalled, but then someone outright lied to me. I worked backwards from the lies to build an investigation into destruction and propaganda, which I blogged at Cultural Heritage in Conflict ( Through that investigation, I found more and more evidence of antiquities trafficking by armed groups.
In the end, I wrote my thesis on the political economy of cultural heritage in the Cyprus Conflict, encompassing work in occupied and secessionist territory, political violence against cultural property and illicit trade in cultural goods.
Blissfully for all concerned, there’s not much more to say. Apart from stints as an illicit antiquities researcher at a peace-building cultural heritage NGO in the Netherlands (about which I cannot say much more) and as an English teacher at a language school in central Turkey (about which I do not need to say any more), I’ve been practically unemployed ever since.
Partly to improve access to my work, partly to develop my research, partly to put my professional skills to public use, partly to whore myself out to the first bidder, and partly to have something to do that used up enough attention to distract me from the dole, I developed a new blog, Conflict Antiquities (, on looting and destruction in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Boredom built into frustration and, when Emily Johnson triggered the public discussion of unpaid archaeology (, I vented so much that I established yet another blog, Unfree Archaeology (, on precarious labour in cultural heritage.
Unfree Archaeology began with a focus on the British labour market, but it began just before Occupy Gezi, so it and Conflict Antiquities quickly grew to include the role of archaeology and archaeologists in the revolution in Turkey. One of my first posts, before the occupation, noted that archaeologists had (already) engaged in ‘coordinated professional resistance’ ( Likewise, when it all kicked off in EuroMaidan, Kyiv, Ukraine, I helped by translating, analysing and discussing information on the treatment of cultural property and cultural property workers.
However, Conflict Antiquities became my full-time work-for-labour due to the Syrian civil war and Syrian-Iraqi collapse. It started simply enough, with the open source analysis of antiquities looting and trafficking. Then, I began to fact-check claims of destruction regarding the war(s) in Syria and Iraq. Now, I’ve become a public expert of sorts – unable to tell anyone anything about an ancient site other than whether it is still standing – and, grimly, in demand for that very reason. Even the Islamic State reads (and exploits) me (
Thank you Sam, I came across your blogs when I was checking the HARN membership for the survey and I keep going back, they make for uncomfortable but compulsive reading.
If any of you would like to write a similar biographical feature, or nominate another member we should approach, then get in touch.
Have a great weekend
4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sera Baker permalink
    October 24, 2014 9:52 am

    Sam, this is fascinating! You’ve registered with media experts as an archaeology expert, right? You’ve got so much to tell! Nice work!


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