Saving Our Antiquities

ancient assyrian relief of king ashurnasirpal

Our world is blessed with the awe-inspiring remains of ancient civilizations, cultures,  and ways of worship from centuries in the past. Although natural disasters, acid rain, and the ravages of time threaten some of them, others have been destroyed or are in peril due to human violence and wars.

Ruin in ancient greek town Hierapolis, Turkey

Ruin in ancient greek town Hierapolis, Turkey

If you’ve ever watched the movie The Monuments Men, you know the true story of a platoon in World War II, racing to save priceless artwork stolen by the Nazi’s. The idea of saving our cultural history and artifacts in times of war is not a new one, but the danger to some of the world’s most stunning Heritage Sites is reaching emergency levels of concern today.

Ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof train station in Berlin, Germany in 2013.

Ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof train station in Berlin, Germany in 2013.

In what the United Nations is calling “war crimes,” ISIS fighters are attacking archaeological sites throughout Iraq and Syria with sledgehammers, power tools, and bombs. They are deliberately seeking out areas of cultural history, and systematically destroying them. Among others, they have targeted the Mosul Museum, Iraq’s second largest museum of antiquities, that was in the process of being rebuilt after being damaged in the 2003 Iraq War. Fortunately, many of that museum’s artifacts had been safely moved to the The Baghdad Museum for safekeeping, although there were roughly 300 rare pieces remaining. Thousands of books and rare manuscripts were burned from the Mosul Library.

karl stephenson

karl stephenson

ISIS has also bulldozed the ancient ruins in the nearby city of Nimrud. Nimrud was a city in the Assyrian kingdom, which flourished between 900 and 612 B.C. E. An unnamed fighter was quoted by CNN as saying, “These antiquities and idols…were from people in past centuries and were worshiped instead of God. When God Almighty orders us to destroy these statues, idols and antiquities, we must do it, even if they’re worth billions of dollars.”

bombed out iraq

In March of 2015, the United Nations issued a statement saying that neighboring Syria’s “rich tapestry of cultural heritage is being ripped to shreds.”


Sadly, ISIS has demolished the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria. In May, 2015, the world watched while the extremist group threatened to destroy it. Built 2,000 years ago, its columns and pilasters were reduced to rubble. Satellite images have confirmed its destruction, along with the Roman-era Temple of Bel and three ancient funeral towers nearby.

temple of baalshamin

The Temple of Baalshamin, Palmyra, Syria, no longer exists.

UNESCO, the United Nations’ Scientific, Educational and Cultural Organization, charged with “building peace,” has denounced the demolition of irreplaceable antiquities as “a form of cultural cleansing.” Their Unite4Heritage campaign was launched to protect the world’s treasures from extremists.

Temple of Bel

The Temple of Bel (also known as the Temple of Baal) has been destroyed. 

In addition, UNESCO has teamed with The Institute for Digital Archaeology (a joint venture between Harvard and Oxford Universities) to launch the Million Image Database Program. The organization hopes to distribute 5,000 3-D cameras in conflict zones around the world, allowing people to document important structures. If the sites are destroyed, they can perhaps one day be replicated.


UNESCO has  a new website where you can learn about the global movement to safeguard cultural heritage and diversity worldwide. Unite4Heritage is encouraging everyone get involved in the following seven ways:

Post support to social media: Use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to tell the world what cultural heritage means to you. Take photos of your favorite heritage sites and cultures and explain why they matter.

Explore heritage in your local communityFind World Heritage sites nearby, or visit your area’s cultural institutions and explore the role of cultural heritage. (There are 23 sites in the United States, including many in national parks.)

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Organize a #Unite4Heritage eventStand in solidarity with heritage under attack around the world. Invite heritage sites, museums and cultural institutions in your area to participate, and work with local media to cover the event.

Let your government know why heritage mattersAct as a #Unite4Heritage ambassador in your community by contacting your legislative representatives. Let them know why our heritage must be safeguarded for future generations.

Volunteer to safeguard heritage: Get in touch with heritage sites in your area to see how you can assist in safeguarding them.

Yosemite National Park, Wyoming, USA

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Donate to the Heritage Emergency Fund: The fund contributes to the protection of natural and cultural heritage from disasters and conflicts by preparing for and responding to emergencies.

Stay up to date on campaign newsFollow Unite4Heritage on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


I believe in The Power of One. We can each make a difference! Let’s not give up our cultural memories without a fight.

Making Chemical Exposure Visible


One of my favorite organizations, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), just published a list of their victories in 2015, and how they translate to their goals in 2016. One of the most fascinating items was a pilot project they funded with My Exposome, using silicone wristbands that measure the chemicals we encounter every day in the air, and in the products we use.

butterfly 2

For one week, research volunteers strapped on their wristband, which absorbed chemicals–from pesticides to flame retardants–making the invisible world of chemicals visible.

Closeup of watering of plants in glasshouse

The EDF plans to recruit more volunteers in 2016 to improve their understanding of environmental exposures. And then they plan to use that information to spur policy changes to reduce key sources of harmful exposures.

Want to sign up as a research volunteer? Help advance chemical science here!

Photo of My Exposome Courtesy of The Environmental Defense Fund. 

Dining Through the Ages

dining room

The holidays have arrived, and we’ll all be spending time in dining rooms for the next several weeks. A well-appointed dining room is both functional and beautiful, encouraging relaxation and companionship, as well as the enjoyment of our food. The dining room is a relatively new idea, however. When people first began to inhabit built dwellings, they shared a common room for sleeping, cooking, and eating, and sometimes, invited their barnyard companions to share the space with them.

Doorway into the hill in lower austria

The idea of a separate dining room began, according to historians, with the ancient Greeks, who gathered on stone or wood couches (men only!) to eat honey cakes and chestnuts in seclusion. The ancient Romans had a separate room called the triclinium for their meals, but women were invited.

A dining room-kitchen inside a medieval castle.

By the Middle Ages, wealthier people were eating in dining rooms, but comfort was still out of reach in the large, drafty halls. As the Industrial Revolution brought increased prosperity to the populace, more people could enjoy the benefits of a separate room for formal dining, along with silver cutlery, delicate china, and linen tablecloths. Author Bill Bryson, in his book At Home: A Short History of Private Life, says that when Thomas Jefferson put in a dining room at Monticello, it was quite a dashing thing to do. Elsewhere, meals were still being served at little tables in any convenient space.

An image of a dining room and fireplace in a primitive colonial style reproduction home. The home is built with materials reclaimed from structures built in the late 1700's. The styling is authentic primitive colonial, with modern amenities added to make the home functional and comfortable for a modern family. The furniture and decor are antiques fro the late 18th century.

So in honor of the holiday and the meals we’ll enjoy there, here’s to our dining rooms! And here are a few of my favorite Dujardin-designed dining rooms for you to enjoy.

dining room

The table is a 20th century reproduction of an 18th century Irish lacemaker’s worktable, surrounded by a rare set of American spindle back chairs with their original black paint. 

Dujardin Urban Oasis 022 compressed

A wrought iron and rock crystal chandelier brings elegant light to this comfortable space.

dining room

Hermes orange is this homeowner’s favorite color!

IMG_2237_41_40_39_adjust copy

The farmhouse table is surrounded by black-painted Windsor chairs. The hanging light fixtures are contemporary versions of 19th century Colonial “smoke bells,” designed to keep the candles from blowing out and smoke from marking the ceiling. 

dining room 2

The hand painted floor is striking and adds another layer of interest to this beautiful room.

dining room

The dining corner in this New York City apartment was created with curving walls and a dropped ceiling. The solid walnut table is by Hellman-Chang.

photos 88 old saugatuck 002 (2) copy This is my dining room in Connecticut, where I’ll be serving Thanksgiving dinner to my family. Wherever you spend yours, I hope it’s a safe and happy one!