Meet Dr Peter Campbell, Lecturer in Cultural Heritage Under Threat within Cranfield Forensic Institute.

Peter campbell“There are entire chapters of history that have been ripped out and destroyed, that we'll never get back. There's a lot of glimpses of things that we think we might have lost, but we can never know.”

Dr Campbell’s research looks at cultural heritage under threat in different contexts and what can be done to protect and preserve it now and in the future.

We interviewed him to find out more about his research, to discover more about cultural heritage and why is it important, and why he chose to come to Cranfield.

Can you tell us a little about your role within the Cranfield Forensic Institute, and what your research covers?

“I lecture in cultural heritage under threat and, together with Alice Farren-Bradley who is lecturer in cultural heritage crime, we co-direct the Cranfield MSc in Forensic Investigation of Heritage Crime. This is a new programme that's part of the forensic modular Master’s degree in the Cranfield Forensic Institute and examines the different threats to cultural heritage around the world. We work a lot with UK police, law enforcement and military, as well as international groups like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Interpol. My research is broad, and examines cultural heritage in lots of different aspects. I work a lot underwater, but I also work on land. I’m an avid diver but we also use robots quite a lot these days. In general, I look at cultural heritage under threat in different contexts and try and understand the power dynamics at play and then how to protect and preserve heritage. Recently with Islamic State’s activity in Syria and Iraq we've seen the direct threats to cultural heritage, and how terrorism and conflict can use cultural heritage for profit and to re-shape historical narratives by destroying the past in order to solidify the ideologies of these extremists.”

What is cultural heritage and why is it important?

“Cultural heritage is all the intangible and tangible things about the past that survive, and it's critical for understanding who you, your family and your culture are, and key for social identity and social cohesion. It can be things like museums and artefacts, it can be family heirlooms, it can be the Magna Carta, but it can also be things like cooking and food traditions. Cultural heritage is really the glue that holds people, societies and cultures together and, without that shared patrimony, you see them collapse. That cultural heritage ‘glue’ is what Islamic State targets, and what Ansar Dine targeted in Mali by destroying the libraries of Timbuktu. They attack the things that hold people together. So, the protection of cultural heritage is about the maintenance of social identity and social cohesion. It's the object, the monument, the building you can visit and you can say, as a community, ‘That's our origin. That's what keeps us together.’ If that's wiped out and destroyed forever, communities either have to reconstruct it or find something else, or there's the risk that they fall apart and become factional groups that are no longer a coherent society.”

What are the threats to cultural heritage?

“Looting, treasure hunting, is one of the biggest – bigger than conflict. We see this widespread systematic destruction of heritage sites across the world, especially in areas that are economically depressed, in order to try and generate a profit. These beautiful ancient sites get turned into a kind of lunar landscape of holes being dug through them looking for anything of value. Natural resources can rebound, so if you have places that are over-fished, if you leave them over time, the fish will come back and re-populate. With cultural resources, once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. There are entire chapters of history that have been ripped out and destroyed, that we'll never get back. There's a lot of glimpses of things that we think we might have lost, but we can never know. Something might show up at an auction house that's been stolen from somewhere and it might indicate a lost ruler or an unknown civilization. There's a civilization in South America, the Moche, that was first known only through objects that have been stolen and looted. It was only through studying to identify where they came from that we really started to understand the whole culture. A lot of the sites have been destroyed from looting. It's a global phenomenon – it happens here in the UK and it also happens in places like Iraq – and it's a real threat to understanding the past and understanding cultures.”

What drew you to this area as a career path?

“I started off in anthropology and archaeology as a student, but it quickly became apparent that many of the major sites had evidence of looting and trafficking and widespread destruction. I don't think I've ever seen an archaeological site, even the ones that I've discovered, where there isn't evidence of looting – there's just this massive global threat to any kind of cultural heritage. So, that got me quite interested in researching the structure of the illicit antiquities trade and how a local farmer in one country is then connected to multi-million-dollar industry in a New York gallery selling the objects. I started as a field archaeologist and then began working together with the OSCE and others to train border security and customs, and developed a better sense of how the illicit trade is structured, because there isn't a lot that's been done in the past. It's very much an emerging field. It's growing rapidly – and I think the new Cranfield MSc speaks to the need for more training in this area – but it's training that's really only developed on a large scale over the last 10-15 years.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

“As a recent starter, and having been through the past year we have, it’s difficult to answer that, because I’ve mostly been sitting at home! But, ordinarily, I’m a field archaeologist and I work together with groups like the OSCE, so every month is incredibly diverse. All different parts of the globe are equally affected by threats to heritage, so my field work can take me anywhere. I primarily work in the Mediterranean, but have also recently worked in Mongolia, Africa, and North America, where I’m from originally. If I’m not doing field work, I might be in the lab, or consulting with police or law enforcement. I also do a lot of media work and television series for National Geographic. So, it’s quite a diverse array of things!”

Why did you choose to work at Cranfield?

“Cranfield was a really wonderful landing spot in that there is no other degree programme in the world that does investigation of heritage crime – this is the first one. There are other programmes that do art law and that sort of thing, but this is the only one that does heritage crime, and so it's really a unique opportunity. When I saw it posted, I was shocked and quite happy, because most heritage crime researchers do the heritage crime part in their free time next to their regular job of archaeology or criminology, or that sort of thing. To be able to focus on this was really rare and quite an opportunity. So, that's what drew me in. It's rare to have this sort of interdisciplinary institution, where you have so many different people in different fields with overlap in terms of methods, where you can work together. I think there are really interesting things that are going to come out of this that would not be possible in other institutions where departments are very siloed and rarely mix in the same spaces. In CFI, you have all these different people working on different problems but around the same world-class laboratory equipment. It's really a rare opportunity.”

What is your favourite part of your job?

“I really enjoy problem solving, and there's a lot of problems to solve in this sector. I enjoy working on all the different things that might come up, from finding World War Two service members, to addressing the repatriation of objects to countries like Tanzania, to excavating a second century AD Roman shipwreck. That diversity, and addressing the different problems in their different contexts, is really quite exciting. They say you're supposed to specialise, but I really enjoy working on all different aspects of heritage and community memory.”

Tell me more about your current research?

“We have contracts with the DPAA (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) in the US, which is a military branch that tries to locate lost service members, and we are currently working in Poland, Sicily, Germany and Austria to look for lost US aircraft in order to recover human remains and repatriate them back to the US. It’s quite exciting, because it involves working together with the US government. Cranfield is a world leader in forensics, and so that collaboration is very strong. We’ll be able to apply the latest underwater search and survey techniques, while developing new forensic techniques underwater. It’s really exciting to be able to develop the research and methods that the next generation are going to be using in these sorts of studies. I also have a project in Greece, where we found the largest concentration of ancient shipwrecks in the world. We have 58 shipwrecks from the sixth century BC all the way up to the 1920s. We're starting excavation this year of two of the ancient shipwrecks. Then, in Sicily, I have a project where we located the only known ancient naval battle that's been discovered. It was the battle that put Rome on the road to Empire and ended the First Punic War by defeating the ancient power of Carthage. It’s all out in open water and really deep, so we’re using robots. The project was prompted a heritage crime originally – it started from looting and trafficking by fishermen who were stealing objects, and then the Carabinieri did a raid and contacted the archaeologists to come in.”

Why does this research matter?

“The DPAA project is a little different but, generally, cultural heritage matters because it is a large part of most economies. It's part of sustainable tourism, which is a huge sector for a lot of countries that have a lot of visible archaeological remains. This includes areas of Britain, but also places like Greece, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere, where there are widespread problems of destruction. It’s also important because of the global scientific implications. For example, recent sites have identified direct lineages of humans in Mexico; the indigenous populations of Mexico through archaeology and modern DNA studies have been linked directly to archaeological finds dating back 10,000 to 12,000 years – it's their direct ancestors. Those skeletons have been studied, but another skeleton nearby was stolen and taken by a collector to sit in a private display case, and so that history just disappeared. We'll never know what that DNA sequence could have told us. There’s also the issue of local history. Heritage is the glue that holds communities together, and so it's key to social cohesion. Without shared history, groups splinter and fall apart. From the ancient Romans, to the Khmer Rouge, to Islamic State, the best way to destroy a culture and the things that hold people together is to attack their monuments and their shared history. That's what the Nazis were doing in all the places they occupied – removing all the local history and cultural institutions. If you can wipe out all of those sorts of things, then groups fall apart.”

Do you have any advice to offer potential students who are thinking of coming to Cranfield to study cultural heritage crime?

“Cultural heritage crime is an emerging sector that’s been growing and developing rapidly over the last 10 to 15 years. With the only degree programme dedicated to it, Cranfield really is the place to be. Given our facilities, and the expertise of the faculty, this really is a great spot to learn about heritage crime, as well as current analytical techniques and other sorts of laboratory analyses that can be used to understand heritage crime. If you want to prevent heritage crime, whether it is looting, trafficking, treasure hunting, or any of the other things that are major threats, then it starts with learning the investigative techniques, and that's what we're really strong on here at Cranfield.”

And finally, what do you do when you’re not working?

“Most of my hobbies are tied quite closely to my work. I really enjoy diving and sailing, which ties in quite closely to my interest in shipwrecks and sunken cities and all that sort of thing under the sea. Most of my hobbies are tied in some way to water!”

Supporting information on Dr Peter Campbell and his work on heritage crime

Dr Peter Campbell recently presented at the Cultural Heritage Crime Conference which took place online between the 12 – 14 July 2021.

For published articles by Peter Campbell you can take a look at For published papers by go to Cranfield University’s research repository CERES and search for Peter Campbell.

You can also find many of his articles on Google Scholar: ‪Peter B. Campbell - ‪Google Scholar

And Peter has his own website: Peter B Campbell | Underwater Archaeologist

Peter has also featured in a number of television programmes, including National Geographic's 'Drain the oceans: Rise of the Roman Empire' and 'Drain the oceans: Lost worlds of the Mediterranean'.

Alumni can read recent articles, available through databases in the Alumni Library Online service, on the theme of sunken cities, shipwrecks and underwater cities and cultural heritage under threat.

ABI Inform Global

Abate, N., & Lasaponara, R. (2019). Preventive Archaeology Based on Open Remote Sensing Data and Tools: The Cases of Sant’Arsenio (SA) and Foggia (FG), Italy. Sustainability, 11(15), 4145.

Character, L., Ortiz, A., J.R., Beach, T., & Luzzadder-Beach, S. (2021). Archaeologic Machine Learning for Shipwreck Detection Using Lidar and Sonar. Remote Sensing, 13(9), 1759.

Corio, E., LACCONE, F., Pietroni, N., Cignoni, P., & Froli, M. (2017). Conception and parametric design workflow for a timber large-spanned reversible grid shell to shelter the archaeological site of the Roman shipwrecks in Pisa. International Journal of Computational Methods and Experimental Measurements, 5(4), 551-561.

Novita, A., Adhityatama, S., Ramadhan, A. S., Manurung, Y. H. M., & Prasetya, W. H. (2020). Maritime archeology resources potential in Belitung waters. IOP Conference Series.Earth and Environmental Science, 584(1)

Perez-Alvaro, E., & Forrest, C. (2018). Maritime Archaeology and Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Disputed South China Sea. International Journal of Cultural Property, 25(3), 375-401.

Skamantzari, M., Georgopoulos, A., & Palyvou, C. (2020). SUNKEN ROMAN VILLA OF ANCIENT EPIDAURUS: DOCUMENTATION AND ENHANCEMENT USING VIRTUAL REALITY. ISPRS Annals of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, -2-2020, 981-988. 


Cuno, J. (2016). The Responsibility to Protect the World’s Cultural Heritage. Brown Journal of World Affairs23(1), 97–109.

Fairclough, G. (2016). Essentially Cultural: Perspectives on Landscape from Europe. Landscape Journal35(2), 149–166.

Happa, J., Bashford-Rogers, T., Wilkie, A., Artusi, A., Debattista, K., & Chalmers, A. (2012). Cultural Heritage Predictive Rendering. Computer Graphics Forum31(6), 1823–1836.

Lenzerini, F. (2016). Cultural Identity, Human Rights, and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Peoples. Brown Journal of World Affairs23(1), 127–141.

Monroe, C. M. (2007). Vessel Volumetrics and the Myth of the Cyclopean Bronze Age Ship. Journal of the Economic & Social History of the Orient50(1), 1–18.

Williams, P. R., & Coster, C. (2017). Blood Antiquities: Addressing a Culture of Impunity in the Antiquities Market. Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law49(1/2), 103–114.


Dinler, F. (2021) Formulation of historic residential architecture as a background to urban conservation. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, 11(1), 1-17.

Edberts, L. (2016) Moving beyond the hard boundary: Overcoming the nature-culture divide in the Dutch Wadden Sea area. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, 9(1), 62-73.

Magliacani, M., and Sorrentino, D. (2020) Embedding sustainability dimensions in university collections management: a “scientific journey” into a natural history museum. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development. Advanced publication.

Open access articles in ScienceDirect from Elsevier
Although Elsevier do not generally permit alumni access to ScienceDirect material, don’t forget there are many articles available via open access (the author has paid to allow their article to be publicly available without subscription). Here are a few examples of articles on cultural heritage:

Benedetto Allotta, Riccardo Costanzi, Alessandro Ridolfi, Carlo Colombo, Fabio Bellavia, Marco Fanfani, Fabio Pazzaglia, Ovidio Salvetti, Davide Moroni, Maria Antonietta Pascali, Marco Reggiannini, Maarja Kruusmaa, Taavi Salumäe, Gordon Frost, Nikolaos Tsiogkas, David M. Lane, Michele Cocco, Lavinio Gualdesi, Daniel Roig, Hilal Tolasa Gündogdu, Enis I. Tekdemir, Mehmet Ismet Can Dede, Steven Baines, Floriana Agneto, Pietro Selvaggio, Sebastiano Tusa, Stefano Zangara, Urmas Dresen, Priit Lätti, Teele Saar, Walter Daviddi.

The ARROWS project: adapting and developing robotics technologies for underwater archaeology, IFAC-PapersOnLine, Volume 48, Issue 2, 2015, Pages 194-199, ISSN 2405-8963.
Full text:

Marta Domínguez-Delmás, Sara Rich, Mohamed Traoré, Fadi Hajj, Anne Poszwa, Linar Akhmetzyanov, Ignacio García-González, Peter Groenendijk. Tree-ring chronologies, stable strontium isotopes and biochemical compounds: Towards reference datasets to provenance Iberian shipwreck timbers, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 34, Part A, 2020, 102640, ISSN 2352-409X.
Full text:

Gelli, A. Meschini, N. Monni, M. Pagliai, A. Ridolfi, L. Marini, B. Allotta. Development and Design of a Compact Autonomous Underwater Vehicle: Zeno AUV, IFAC-PapersOnLine, Volume 51, Issue 29, 2018, Pages 20-25, ISSN 2405-8963.
Full text:

Albert Hafner, Johannes Reich, Ariane Ballmer, Matthias Bolliger, Ferran Antolín, Mike Charles, Lea Emmenegger, Josianne Fandré, John Francuz, Erika Gobet, Marco Hostettler, André F. Lotter, Andrej Maczkowski, César Morales-Molino, Goce Naumov, Corinne Stäheli, Sönke Szidat, Bojan Taneski, Valentina Todoroska, Amy Bogaard, Kostas Kotsakis, Willy Tinner. First absolute chronologies of neolithic and bronze age settlements at Lake Ohrid based on dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 38, 2021, 103107, ISSN 2352-409X.
Full text:

Jessica Cook Hale, Jonathan Benjamin, Katherine Woo, Peter Moe Astrup, John McCarthy, Nathan Hale, Francis Stankiewicz, Chelsea Wiseman, Claus Skriver, Ervan Garrison, Sean Ulm, Geoff Bailey. Submerged landscapes, marine transgression and underwater shell middens: Comparative analysis of site formation and taphonomy in Europe and North America, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 258, 2021, 106867, ISSN 0277-3791.
Full text:

Kristen Ounanian, Jan P.M. van Tatenhove, Carsten Jahn Hansen, Alyne E. Delaney, Hanne Bohnstedt, Elaine Azzopardi, Wesley Flannery, Hilde Toonen, Jasper O. Kenter, Laura Ferguson, Marloes Kraan, Jordi Vegas Macias, Machiel Lamers, Cristina Pita, Ana Margarida Ferreira da Silva, Helena Albuquerque, Fátima L. Alves, Dimitra Mylona, Katia Frangoudes. Conceptualizing coastal and maritime cultural heritage through communities of meaning and participation, Ocean & Coastal Management, Volume 212, 2021, 105806, ISSN 0964-5691.
Full text:

Michela Ricca, Beatriz Cámara, Rafael Fort, Mónica Álvarez de Buergo, Luciana Randazzo, Barbara Davidde Petriaggi, Mauro Francesco La Russa. Definition of analytical cleaning procedures for archaeological pottery from underwater environments: The case study of samples from Baia (Naples, South Italy), Materials & Design, Volume 197, 2021, 109278, ISSN 0264-1275.
Full text:

Kieran Westley. Satellite-derived bathymetry for maritime archaeology: Testing its effectiveness at two ancient harbours in the Eastern Mediterranean, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Volume 38, 2021,103030,ISSN 2352-409X.
Full text:

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