History professor makes last crusade
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 17:10
“The kids call me Indiana Jones. That’s what they call themselves, the Indiana Jones football club, which is soccer,” Louis Intres, a student in the heritage studies PhD program and adjunct professor of history, said.
One photo hanging in Intres’ office in Wilson Hall shows an article by the Jonesboro Sun about his “Indiana Jones football club.” A group of Jordanian Bedouin boys are huddled up smiling with a soccer ball. Intres took the photo after seeing them play “football” with a deflated basketball.
Intres, 64, is more than just a student at A-State. He is a retired banker, but has had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East several times.
Before being accepted in the PhD program, the Jonesboro native was a master’s student in history.
For his term paper he wrote about the looting of nearly 20,000 pieces of ancient artifacts from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad in 2003 during the Gulf War.
“Most have never been recovered, and that interested me. That essay led me to giving some lectures regarding the looting of the Baghdad museum,” Intres said.
“At one of these lectures there was an archaeologist who had a connection with Interpol, the international police. I was invited by Interpol to come over to Washington D.C. to meet with them and their staff who were studying the international smuggling of artifacts out of the Middle East. They offered and I accepted a position called Interpol Visiting Scholar.”
After accepting this position, Intres said he made the focus of his PhD work the study of the smuggling of artifacts out of the Middle East.
“I began traveling to the Middle East on numerous occasions, living in the desert with the Bedouins, and studying the culture of the people surrounding the illegal theft and sale of ancient Middle Eastern artifacts,” Intres said.
In the deserts of Jordan, and many countries in the Middle East, Intres said that it’s a livelihood for many families.
“What I’m writing is a comparison and contrast of the cultures of illegal excavation and selling of artifacts in Jordan compared to the Mississippi Valley Indian graves. The process is the same in both countries,” Intres said.
“They use the same tools, they do the same things, but the culture surrounding it is totally different because here it is a small part of local culture and it’s mostly among collectors or people who are interested in preserving Indian culture, whereas over there the theft and sale and smuggling of artifacts is an embedded industry. Almost everybody in each village is involved in it to some extent. They all have specific responsibilities within that industry.”
Intres said while here it is done to preserve a culture or add to one’s own collection, it is done in Jordan as a means of survival.
“It is one of the principle means by which a lot of people feed their families over there,” Intres said. “There’s a sizeable number of Bedouins and unemployed people who live in the southern deserts of Jordan but there aren’t enough jobs.”
Intres doesn’t travel alone on these adventures. During his time in Jordan, his friend Jehad Tewalbeh, a Jordanian, helps set up meetings, translates and provides security for Intres. He said they have become like brothers and have developed trust in their time together.
“I’ve met incredible people,” Intres said. “I’ve been able to do things I never could have possibly dreamed of.”
Some of these incredible things include climbing in the great pyramids, floating the Nile with thieves, viewing the Dead Sea Scrolls and walking through the ancient city of Petra.
He also said he misses the traveling. Last fall was his last trip, and he is now working on his writing. Intres has been to the Middle East nine times in the last five years.
Intres said a typical day would be waking up and having coffee or tea, helping the family with chores like taking the sheep out to graze and talking with the men of the tribe in a tent late into the night.
Although he hasn’t been on any of these illegal tomb raids, Intres has had the opportunity to witness them from afar.
He said one of the most amazing things about being in the desert is watching the stars and seeing the constellations move throughout the night.
With his many life experiences, his passion for adventure clearly shows through in his classes.