Valerie Thibodaux:

A little about

Yours Truly

Markham Caerus is the convergence of ideas integrated from my own interdisciplinary mind, and multifaceted life. My background is a mix of technical and creative disciplines, stretching across two continents.

    My two years in Paris studying art history, European culture and literature, a third year training in sculpture in a classical atelier, and two years studying archaeology in Chicago were a phenomenal foundation; these experiences forged my passion for the subjects, and concern for their future.

    When I started Markham Caerus, I decided to use my diversity of interests to the project’s advantage: My great love has always been learning, and my strength is finding connections between normally unrelated fields. That ability seemed the perfect thing to bring to interdisciplinary research.

    Learning to fly and being a pilot have had the greatest influence on my focus. Aviation is brilliant at teaching decision making, risk management, human factors, and developing standard procedure; it has also developed outstanding methods of teaching and testing. I think many other fields can benefit from the models and techniques derived from aviation’s innovations.

    So many other opportunities, experiments, and my eternal curiosity have contributed to my world view, and my work on Markham Caerus, but I will leave the details to the biographers. Writing a life story is nothing to the fun of creating one.

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The Origins of

Markham Caerus

In October 2003, the late Dr. Donny George came to the University of Chicago to deliver a talk on the looting of the Baghdad Museum and scores of archaeological sites across the Middle East. I was in the audience, a student at the Oriental Institute, torn by feelings of professional outrage and personal loss. Leaving the lecture, I thought darkly that if I wanted anything to excavate in my own career, I would have to save it first. Over the ensuing years, the Markham Caerus project was born.

The name itself is a tribute to both my inspiration and my intention: pioneer aviatrix Beryl Markham sparked my love of flying as a child, and gave me the idea to merge aviation, like aerial remote sensing in GIS (geographic information systems), with specialised study in archaeology and protecting sites.

Caerus is the personification of the Greek kairos, opportunity, later adopted by the Romans. Opportunity is portrayed as approaching softly on winged feet; in Ancient Greece, one caught opportunity by the hair, which is why he is bald behind. One cannot turn back and catch him once he is past. Similarly, once the opportunity to preserve part of our history is lost, it will not come again.

The Direction

The scale of art crime globally—from theft to outright destruction—demands effective solutions, and the nature of art crime demands an interdisciplinary approach. The interactions of academic research, the commercial art world, and international law are as complex as the criminal and questionable networks they overlap, and understanding them is only the first step. Policy, ethics, and maximization of resources must form a framework for any method of solution implemented.

GIS is a powerful tool that can help analyse art crime in three ways: it can integrate widely varying bodies of information, to help people in differing professions understand each other; it can help quantify qualitative concepts, such as cost effectiveness of a proposed course of action; and it can present abstract ideas visually— a picture instead of a thousand words. The ultimate success of combating art crime may depend on using the power of visual images to save masterpieces of art.

This is the goal of Markham Caerus.

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