School of Arts and Cultures

Staff Profiles

Dr Emma Cunliffe

Research Associate: Cultural Property Protection


I am a Research Associate working to support the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace. The majority of my work focusses on the Blue Shield Association, developing ways to support the armed forces to protect sites in the event of armed conflict and natural disasters, although I also work to examine site damage and in peacetime. We are developing ways to safeguard heritage during peace, and to promote respect for it during and after conflict, developing the implementation of national and international law


My PhD is from Durham University, using satellite imagery to analyse site damage in Syria in peacetime, looking at how the threats to archaeological sites have changed since the 1960s, but this expanded to include the devastation of the current conflict, and then broadened into global studies of heritage in conflict. I have extensive experience in remote sensing and analysis of geo-spatial data, specialising in the Middle East, and have published widely on this academically and in a number of public magazines and journals.


I have worked as a consultant for UNOSAT, analysing satellite imagery of damage to Syria’s cultural heritage sites during the ongoing conflict. I am part of the AHRC-funded Heritage in War Project, with the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace, which works with others in fields of military ethics, law, politics, and security studies to share expertise and enhance our research.


I am the Secretariat for Blue Shield International, the Secretary of UK Blue Shield, and a member of the British Association of Near Eastern Archaeology (BANEA) and of the World Archaeological Congress, and I am an Associate member of the Higher Education Academy.

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My research focuses on the destruction of cultural heritage, specialising in the Middle East – its uses and abuses in conflict, and its loss during peace – with the goal of enabling better site protection policies by governments and armed forces. I hope to examine trends in how sites are damaged during conflict, and understand and evaluate the steps people take to protect them. Building on foundations examining why heritage matters to people, I examine the roles of major actors, particularly the military, who are fundamental to the protection – and destruction– of heritage.  


We are working with key organisations to develop strategies for site recording and protection in peace and conflict, and in the implementation of heritage protection laws, in the UK and internationally. This builds on my AHRC-funded PhD from Durham University, which used satellite imagery to examine archaeological destruction during peacetime (1960s – 2010), analysing modern cultural threats to sites and features, and quantifying the causes, types and extent of the damage for the first time. The results were synthesised into key policy recommendations.


I also document and research site damage and site protection in the conflict in Syria, assisting the international community, and promoting legal and policy changes that will protect cultural heritage during conflict. In previous work, I co-created prioritised geo-spatial lists of heritage sites at risk, requiring a deep understanding of that heritage, as well as knowledge of the role of governments, NGOs and military forces in conflict situations. Building on this, my current work looks at building geo-spatial databases for the armed forces to use in conflict and emergency response; the ways sites are damaged and the motivations underlying this; and the applications of national and international law in heritage protection in the event of armed conflict.