Preserving Precious Property

Physical Security

Photos by Thinkstock​

Preserving Precious Property
 

​In late 2011, Ricardo Sanz Marcos received a disturbing phone call. As a consultant with the cultural properties firm PROARPA Security Asset Protection and Cultural Heritage, he was used to receiving security inquiries about cultural properties, but he dreaded this type of news the most. An ancient Roman villa known as the Villa of Santa Cruz, in the province of Burgos, Spain, had been robbed.

Thieves had carelessly removed tiles from a centuries-old mosaic, called "The Return of Bacchus of India," situated in the middle of the house. The 5th century floor mosaic, which depicted a Roman god, was one of the largest and best preserved in Europe and was rare for its size of 66 square meters.

"The mosaic was destroyed when they stole it," Sanz Marcos recalls. "It was a pity because it was a beautiful mosaic."

Normally, art thieves who rob archaeological sites are careful to preserve the works they steal, but Sanz Marcos notes that the economic crisis in Spain has left many thieves desperate to make off with precious artifacts.

Thankfully, the artwork was restored to match the original as closely as possible. "Now there is a replica of the mosaic at the site," he notes. "The art technicians are very talented."

After the incident, which occurred in December 2011, Sanz Marcos was called to evaluate security measures at the Roman villa and assess how they could be improved. He says that visit was when he "fell in love" with an ancient archaeological site in Spain, known as the site of Colonia Clunia Sulpicia, not far from the villa.

Just a few years later, Sanz Marcos and a fellow cultural properties expert would complete a comprehensive site and survey risk assessment for the ancient archaeological site, one of only a few such assessments ever conducted.  ​

Cultural Properties

For ASIS Cultural Properties Council member James Clark, CPP, bringing value to the international membership around cultural properties security was a challenge he wanted to solve. "We were trying to increase our own knowledge base and our own body of knowledge, because we really needed that," he says of the council. "Things are going on in Europe that haven't been going on in the United States—there's the whole business of terrorism at sites in Syria, and a few years ago in Iran."

Threats. Clark, managing partner of Clark Security Group, LLC, an independent security consultancy in Cleveland, Ohio, notes that terrorism has had a destructive effect on cultural properties worldwide. Many headlines have been dedicated to Syria, where the Islamic State has purposefully destroyed countless ruins and artifacts.

But warfare is not the only threat to these historic sites. People who simply pick up relics, not understanding or knowing their value, can be a major threat to site preservation, he says. Lack of preventative measures, such as onsite security and technology systems, puts cultural properties at risk as well.

"My experience in South America and Central America—in Mexico in particular—is that there are varying degrees of security," he says. "There are some really fabulous sites in Mexico where there is no security. There are sites all over Central America—even Machu Picchu in Peru—that have periodic security. It's a challenge in all these places."

So, when Clark met fellow council member Ricardo Sanz Marcos, they immediately connected over their joint desire to bring more recognition and security to international cultural properties.

"We hit it off pretty quickly, and we started talking about how we could bring benefit to what he's been practicing in Europe, and particularly in Spain," Clark says.

CRISP Grant. Sanz Marcos was passionate about creating a standard of protection for smaller cultural properties around the world that didn't draw the same level of attention as larger sites like the Mayan Ruins, or other locations designated as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

"South of the Mexican border, down to South America, the south of Africa, the southwest of Asia—they are developing countries and they don't have the same level of industry or economy as developed nations, but they have cultural properties in the middle of the jungle or the middle of the desert," Sanz Marcos says. "That was the cornerstone of the Clunia report, to make a standard of protection for cultural properties in developing countries."

He and Clark worked with then council chair Robert Carotenuto, CPP, PCI, PSP, associate vice president of security at the New York Botanical Garden, to write a CRISP (Connecting Research in Security to Practice) grant proposal to the ASIS International Foundation. Carotenuto says that he hoped the grant would give the council a way to produce a document of critical significance for the field and international members.

Carotenuto credits former ASIS Foundation Board member Dr. Arthur Kingsbury, CPP, who had extensive experience in archaeological security, and Gary Miville, another former Cultural Properties Council chair, with helping them put together the grant.

After submitting the proposal, they were awarded the CRISP grant, and chose to do several site surveys and a security risk assessment at the place near and dear to Sanz Marcos's heart—Clunia.

"The grant was helpful because it gave us the ability to pick a topic, a subject, and a location that were nonthreatening," Clark says, referring to the lack of terroristic threat in Spain. "But there were some challenges because it was in a remote location, it's a huge property, and nobody was really taking care of it to a great degree." They began their research in November 2016, and published their findings in a CRISP report in January 2018.

Clark and Sanz Marcos conducted a four-day site survey, assessed the threats and risks to the property, and provided recommendations for increasing security at Clunia. They paid visits to nearby historic sites as well, and conducted meetings with stakeholders, including employees working on-site, cultural ministries, mayors of surrounding towns, and a security advisor in charge of the site's contract with Securitas.

Based on their findings, the authors provided detailed recommendations to the stakeholders, which they hoped would increase tourism, community involvement, and overall prosperity at Clunia.

Challenges

Clunia is situated on a plateau in the Province of Burgos in the Castilla y León region of North Central Spain, approximately 150 miles north of Madrid. The location is all but remote, nestled next to the town of Peñalba de Castro, which has a population of fewer than 85 people. Excavation of the site began in 1915, and archeologists found over the following decades that the colony was once a significant Roman city of the Iberian Peninsula, known as Hispania.

Clunia, which dates to the first century BC, is believed by scholars to be "the most representative of all the archaeological ruins that have been found from the Roman period in the Northern Iberian Peninsula," according to the site survey. The site includes a forum with a basilica, a temple, Roman baths, an aqueduct, and one of the largest theaters on the peninsula. Pottery, mosaics, sculptures, Roman coins, glass, and pieces of jewelry have been discovered at the site, as well as Christian symbols that indicate one of the first Christian communities in Hispania may have lived in Clunia.

The inhabitants were skilled, Clark says, as evidenced by the colony's remains. "They had farms, they had grain, they grew grapes, they made wine, they had hot and cold running water, and they were phenomenal engineers," he notes. "They could do whatever they wanted because they had those skills."

Still, only about 15,000 visitors a year come to see Clunia. Limited financial resources were found to be a major factor contributing to the site's poor security, with most funds coming from public administration budgets.

Threats. Clunia's remote location, Clark explains, contributes to the property's security challenges. "The police response is an hour away," Clark notes, based on information he received from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. He adds that the threat of fire, as well as fire response, is another obstacle. The area is mostly dry grassland, making it prone to brushfires, and departments have limited resources to fight blazes in large remote areas.

"Those are the primary issues: fire, theft, and then just damage to the site," Clark notes. "When the grasslands are destroyed, the rains just wash away the soil which takes away the protection of the yet-to-be uncovered ruins."

While terrorism was not found to be a significant risk to Clunia, one of the biggest challenges was theft of material over time from the site. Security around the 6-kilometer (3.5 mile) perimeter and within the site was severely limited, leaving precious artifacts exposed to potential theft and the fragile ruins unguarded.

"The town right next to the site has homes and buildings adorned with all kinds of artifacts from Clunia, and anybody can go to the site and pick something up," Clark says. "Fortune seekers who bring their metal detectors in are able to find Roman coins and other objects that were obviously not excavated."

With limited security patrols, intruders were often able to dig large numbers of holes in search of artifacts. "On a single day in 2015, site personnel discovered more than 165 holes dug into the ground by unknown intruders who had sufficient time to render such destruction without discovery," they write in the report. "It is unknown what, if anything, was removed during these incidents."

While there was a lock on the gate that guarded the site entrance, several keys had been given out to members of the community, and to shepherds who needed to pass through with their flocks to graze.

Resources. Clark and Sanz Marcos found in their assessment that security personnel and technologies at Clunia were severely limited. During public hours, a staff member who sold tickets at the gate and a guide who explained the history of the site were the only people consistently on the property. Additionally, a contract guard worked between 11:00 p.m. and 6:15 a.m., but the guard had no patrol vehicle to make tours.

The visitor center and artifact building, plus specific high-value artifacts inside, had alarm systems, but no one was monitoring video in real time. And with slow law enforcement response times, even if an alarm was triggered, the bad actors would have time to get away. ​

Recommendations

Based on their assessment, Clark and Sanz Marcos made several recommendations to increase both security and community involvement at Clunia. Their final recommendation was a holistic security approach with three components. The approach aimed to get the community on board with a sense of ownership of Clunia, provide policies and practices that complement the security technology and officers in place, and provide those officers with tools and technology that allow them to deter or stop bad actors from accessing the site.

Intrusion detection. The authors recommended several security technologies, providing a detailed summary of costs for each specific purchase, such as re-keying the perimeter gates, adding thermal cameras, and purchasing an all-weather, all-terrain vehicle for the security guard.

Re-keying the gate would solve the issue of several missing keys that had been given out over the years. But the authors recommended that shepherds could continue grazing on the property, because it turned out the sheep helped prevent fire outbreaks by eating the dry brush.

Strategically placed cameras would notify security staff when someone penetrates the fence or trespasses on the site. "One of the technologies that we recommended were thermal imaging cameras mounted on poles, which can detect movement or motions up to a mile," Clark says. "We recommended four or five of those on the site."

Establishing a full-time security presence during all hours Clunia is closed to the public was suggested, which would include two officers: one to staff a control center within the visitor center, and another to perform patrols.

Clark adds that a new visitors center currently under construction could house a new video monitoring location and would serve as a further deterrent to people trying to desecrate the site. "This would allow people to park their vehicles, go through a pedestrian gate, go through the visitors center, pass a small museum there, then go up on the site," he says. "They wouldn't be able to bring metal detectors and shovels—and things of that nature—where they could desecrate the site."

Community awareness. Because the Spanish Cultural Ministry has limited financial resources, Clark and Sanz Marcos determined that increasing community buy-in around Clunia could generate more revenue for protecting it. By educating surrounding communities about the history and significance of the site, the authors indicated the value that Clunia could bring to restaurants, hotels, and other nearby merchants.

"This process should begin by first working with community leaders such as mayors, legislative representatives, and business people, followed by focused community meetings, informational brochures, and regular communications from the cultural ministry," they write in the report.

They suggested a training program to educate schools, neighborhood associations, and other institutions about Clunia, and recommended a marketing strategy in conjunction with nearby properties to draw tourism.

Sanz Marcos iterates the importance of community buy-in for the success of any historic site. "If you transform the cultural property into a sustainable industry that creates jobs, health, wealth, and a better life for the population around it, you can preserve the property," Sanz Marcos notes. "We have to leave our cultural properties for our children in better condition than we received them."

While Clunia was Clark's first archaeological site survey, he has performed risk assessments at museums, libraries, and other cultural properties throughout his career. He says he found that the basic principles of effective physical security applied to Clunia. "The biggest surprise to me was how relatively simple the solutions are," he says. "You really need to do vulnerability assessments on all these sites. There's a lot of common ground here. but there are also a lot of idiosyncrasies about each individual site."

Carotenuto echoes the importance of paying attention to the uniqueness of each cultural property and says it's a best practice for any risk assessment. "As security professionals, we don't just go in and tell someone, 'Well, this is what you need,'" he says. "It has to be tailored to that environment, it has to fit with the culture of that place, and that to me is the most interesting thing about the Clunia report—they realized they needed to embrace the culture of that site."