Looters pillaging Iraq's vast `sea of antiquities'
By James Janega
Tribune staff reporter
March 22, 2007
BAGHDAD -- Four years after the looting of the Iraqi National Museum during the fall of Baghdad, frustrated antiquities experts say untold thousands of Mesopotamian artifacts have been stolen from other vulnerable historical sites across the nation.
Though the museum is now safe--its doors bricked shut and collections entombed behind welded cellar doors--the country's 12,000 archeological sites are mostly unprotected and the Iraqi government is hard-pressed to stop their plunder.
The longtime former director of the state board of antiquities fled to the United States last August after receiving a death threat. Car bombings and other violence mean the guards who would look after remote sites are often unable to get there.
Concerned and unable to get into the country, Mesopotamia scholars from around the world have been forced to rely on satellite images that show the cratered landscape left by thieves at southern Iraqi sites where important cities once stood nearly 2,000 years ago.
The images show holes as small as a few feet in diameter spreading across sites throughout the autumn of 2003, a pattern that continued in some places through 2005. The destruction appeared to slow in the last satellite photos available, in early 2006, but the impact of the damage is clear.
"We're losing an enormous amount," said anthropologist Elizabeth Stone of the State University of New York-Stony Brook, who has studied the satellite imagery. "We look at the sites and say there have to be thousands of objects taken. Perhaps tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of objects."
So far, the loot hasn't appeared in art galleries or on the black market in anything like the volume in which it appears to have been taken--leaving open the question of where the stolen antiquities have gone.
"Most agree that the bulk of it is in storage somewhere, for whatever reasons, " Stone said. "But that it's been taken is pretty clear. Somewhere there are a lot of warehouses bulging at the seams."
11,000 years of human history
The physical extent of Iraq's archeological history is enormous, encompassing artifacts at thousands of sites. Evidence going back 11,000 years traces mankind's earliest farming villages through the evolution of cities, the invention of the wheel, creation of writing, and codes of law.
The sites are so rich that one of Stone's research teams uncovered 20,000 ceramic objects at one site in just a few months before the war. In clay pots stuffed like safety deposit boxes, they found wills, lists of who lived in houses, their friends, business dealings--almost everything to do with daily Mesopotamian society.
"When you go anyplace and put your finger in the soil, you will find one of two seas," said former Iraq Minister of Culture Mufeed Mohammed Jawad al-Jazairi. "A sea of oil, or a sea of antiquities. Sometimes, you can find them together."
Looting of Iraq's historical sites began long before the war, reaching into the global black market during the period of United Nations sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s. As the standard of living fell, treasure-hunting groups began selectively targeting historical sites for big, valuable finds.
As the countryside became more lawless and cut off from the capital at the time of the 2003 invasion, the looting grew more concerted and widespread--this time carried out by large, armed bands from nearby towns.
Desperate to stop it and eager to recover artifacts stolen from the national museum, Western experts tried to return to their work sites and re-establish links with Iraqi counterparts. But as security deteriorated, it became harder and harder to do.
"It's impossible," said McGuire Gibson, a Near East expert with The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq and the University of Chicago. "Everybody's just sitting and hoping they get in at some point. But it's not looking good right now."
Soon after the invasion, it required the equivalent of a military expedition to cross the few blocks from the Green Zone to the Iraqi National Museum, said Minneapolis Institute of Arts curator Corine Wegener, an Army reservist tasked by the U.S. military with recovering looted artifacts in Baghdad.
"I used to drive there in a two-vehicle convoy with a 9 mm millimeter [pistol] in my pocket," she said. "You can't do that anymore. It just kind of steadily got worse."
For many in the West, the last window into the daily realities of Iraq's antiquities sector closed last June, when the director of the Iraqi museum, Donny George Youkhanna, received a message from Al Qaeda in Iraq calling him an American collaborator and threatening his family. It came in an envelope with a bullet.
Western colleagues viewed George as a partner. He was an expert archeologist and political survivor who could ensure the welcome of international scholarship and major excavations even at the height of the Iran-Iraq war and just after the U.S. invasion.
George earned plaudits for recovering about half the 15,000 pieces looted from the museum and other archeological sites as Baghdad fell. He was working to establish a 1,400-member national security force to guard historical sites in June 2006 when camouflaged cars filled with uniformed Iraqis pulled up to a bus station near the museum. The gunmen kidnapped nearly 50 people.
George called a meeting of the museum's senior staff. "I asked them one question: `If these people come to the museum and want to go into our storerooms, can we stop them?'"
The answer was no. Within two days, they pulled everything off display, boxed them in the museum's cellar and welded iron gates over the doors. He had workers brick up the entrances.
Non-Islamic past not valued?
George left the country last August when Iraq's current ministers of culture and tourism reduced his authority to undertake new projects, leading him to question the interest of Iraq's religious Shiite officials in the country's non-Islamic past. He now teaches at SUNY-Stony Brook.
His replacement at the state board of antiquities, Abbas al-Husseiny, declined to comment. Other archeological experts say that al-Husseiny is cooperative and knowledgeable about Iraq's past, but that his hands are tied by the security situation and relative newcomers in the ministries above him.
The person with the fullest picture of what is missing is Stone, who had been collecting Digital Globe satellite images since 2001.
The pictures were enough for her to assess the extent of looting of historical sites in southern Iraq. Between 49 percent and 60 percent of sites dating to 1900 B.C. had been looted, Stone found. About 155 million square feet of ground at the sites were affected, with a quarter of that total surface dug up.
At sites dating to 1700 B.C., 63 percent of sites were looted, with 84 million square feet of ground torn up and some 30 million square feet of the surface illegally excavated.
There is an additional fear: that locals are holding valuable artifacts to sell later. After brief exposure to sun and open air, many of Mesopotamia's clay artifacts, particularly cuneiform tablets, quickly decompose and therefore could be lost forever.
If that is the case, "a huge amount of Mesopotamia is turning to dust," Stone said.
Assyriologi - om oldtidens Irak, og den irakiske kulturarv
Irak-krigen har været en katastrofe for Iraks før-islamiske kulturarv.
Arkæologiske sites er bogstavligt talt blevet gennemhullet af røvere på jagt efter genstande, der - ofte på bestilling - kan afsættes til rige samlere i Vesten.
Resultatet: De gamle byhøje er forvandlede til nøgne månelandskaber; frarøvet den rige kulturarv, som de har bevaret i årtusinder.
For forskningen betyder det en uoprettelig skad. Historie uden kontekst!
Uden at vide, hvor og i hilken sammenhæng, som genstandene har indgået, bliver vi frataget den unikke mulighed, som vi har for at studere en af menneskehedens ældste højkulturer. Det avr her, at byer og skrift første gang så dagens lys for over 5000 år siden.
Her kan du se en film, om situationen i Irak: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3519855663545752103&q=The+Real+Iraq%3A&pr=goog-sl
Looters pillaging Iraq's vast `sea of antiquities'
In the midst of chaos and war in Iraq, one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world—a bedrock of human
civilization— is the focus of determined preservation efforts.
From February 2007
By Bartle Bull
I first saw Babylon, or part of it, driving back and forth past it during the United States–led siege of Najaf, Iraq, in August 2004.
On the way south from Baghdad, a part of the ancient city is briefly visible as a large mound between date-palm plantations. It
comes soon after one passes through the so-called Death Triangle of Sunni towns south of Baghdad, and you pass it shortly after
you feel you can stop lying down on the back seat of your car pretending to be ill or asleep. So Babylon marks a good feeling, like
a sweet gasp of fresh air: safety, and the delightful freedom of being able to look out a moving window..."
From Baghdad to New York: an Assyrian Archaeologist's Journey
Posted GMT 1-16-2007 0:28:18
Donny George, man of history, had vowed never to leave Baghdad,
where he was the keeper of the keys to the looted Iraqi National
Museum. Then his teenage son opened a letter with a bullet inside
and a threat to cut off his head because his father "worked for the
Americans." An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have fled their country
since the U.S. invasion, but George, an archaeologist, along with
his wife, Najat, and 17-year-old son, Martin, are some of the very
few--only 500 a year--who've been granted a visa to live in the
U.S. Which is how the short, stout 56-year-old ended up in Long
Island, driving a Mitsubishi Galant, listening to Shania Twain, and
preparing to teach Mesopotamian archaeology at suny--Stony Brook
this spring semester. His older children, Marian, 21, a medical
student, and Steven, 23, a computer scientist, couldn't get papers.
They remain in Damascus.
In the month or so he's been here, George has learned his way
around the campus, but he hasn't yet reckoned with the modern
ziggurat of the multilevel parking garage. Apologizing, he drives
against one-way traffic up the ramp. They've been searching the
suburban groceries for familiar foods and spices, while explaining
to curious clerks and furniture movers that they are Assyrian
Christians, neither Sunni nor Shiite.
During the past two decades, George oversaw fieldwork at some of
the most significant excavations in the world. In 1987, he was head
of a field expedition in Babylon when Saddam Hussein paid a visit.
"I met him and took him around. He was very calm. He was just
listening. In one of the museums there, we had some inscriptions
translated. In one, Nebuchadnezzar was saying that one of the gods
had sent him to protect 'the black-headed people.' Saddam said,
'You should change that.' And I said, 'No, sir, it's scientific, we
can't change it, this is exactly as it was said. It doesn't mean
that people are black, it means "all the people." Because if you
have a crowd of Iraqis, all you see are their black heads.' He
wanted to change it to 'all the people.' And I said no."
Later, "one of his bodyguards took me aside and said, 'How can you
say no to the leader?' And I said, 'It's science.' And he said,
'Well, good. God bless you. Otherwise, you would have vanished.'"
In early 2003, as the invasion became imminent, George urged his
bosses at the museum to protect the collection by sealing it up in
the basement. "I begged them, 'Please, for God's sake, for the
Prophet's sake, we have to do this, it will be stolen.' And all I
heard was, 'No, you are exaggerating. Saddam is here. Nobody will
dare to come to Baghdad.'
George estimates that the museum lost 15,000 pieces and that Iraq's
archaeological digs lost much more. "From the site looting, we have
retrieved about 17,000 objects, but if 17,000 came back, how much
went out?" He's heard that many of the objects have made it into
growing private cuneiform collections in New York. "It's very sad.
There is one solution for this: If the American government will
stop the tax deduction for people who donate it, the museums don't
buy it. But they encourage rich people to buy and then donate."
George is politically cautious; he wants visas for his other kids
too. He wouldn't comment on the president's plan for a troop
increase. In the end, though, he says, "The solution is entirely
political. And it involves Syria and Iran." In his worst
imaginings, he says, he never predicted that Iraq would descend
into a religious civil war. "Even during Saddam's time, all these
differences were dissolving. I never asked my neighbor or friend if
he was a Sunni or Shiite, and Muslims would not ask each other
either. It was a shameful thing to ask." Meanwhile, the Iranians,
he says, have already penetrated Iraq. He heard that Farsi is heard
in the markets of Basra as often as Arabic. Before he left, there
were rumors he was going to be replaced by a Muslim at the museum.
The church where he and his wife were married has been blown up.
Still, he is convinced they'll go home someday. "Listen, we know
history. We are the people of archaeology. We know it is impossible
for it to stay like this."
He plans to give a few seminars on the American occupation at Stony
Brook Manhattan this winter. The primary lesson he wants to impart
is that Iraq has a heterogeneous past. "I would love Americans to
know this is a country with multiple, different kinds of
people--Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Kurds, Yazidis--people of
different religions. These people have lived together for hundreds
By Nina Burleigh
Lost: The Looting of Iraq’s Antiquities
Lost: The Looting of Iraq’s Antiquities
by Susan Breitkopf
This article was published in Museum News
The only real comparison is to the surface of the moon. Craters as deep as 16 feet cover multi-acre sites that are remnants of what is widely considered the cradle of civilization. The craggy, arid earth, all but barren of vegetation, lies in mounds longside the deep pits where thousands of Iraqi antiquities—cuneiform tablets, ancient scrolls and kings commemorated in stone that might give clues to how civilization began—have been ripped from their resting places and sold to nefarious(or unsuspecting) dealers and collectors. Some sites have been so ravaged that the top 10 feet of earth and all of the irreplaceable artifacts buried there for centuries are gone.
Amid the catastrophe of the war in Iraq—the violence, bloodshed and loss of human life—is the loss of the world’s cultural heritage in the form of hoards of antiquities. It is an ongoing, silent tragedy for which there seems to be no viable solution.
Sources say this is not the work of renegades with shovels. It is planned and executed by organized bands—200 to 300 per site— with heavy machinery at many of the 12,000 sites. And the payout is big. The average Iraqi makes the equivalent of $1,000 per year, yet a cache of looted antiquities can sell for $20,000. And looters can sell two or three such caches every week.
Such looting is not new to Iraq. It has been happening for decades if not centuries, according to Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine Reserves colonel and assistant district attorney in Manhattan who investigated the 2003 looting of the Iraq Museum (an article on his findings appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Museum News). “The looting is a cottage industry. That is clear,” he says, adding that it is like a trade passed down from one generation to the next. “They say, ‘My father did it, my grandfather did it. What else do you want me to do?’”
What’s changed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003? The pace of looting and the penalties. “Under Saddam [Hussein] the penalty for looting was death—obviously that deterred looting,” said Bogdanos. “When they realized we [U.S. Armed Forces] wouldn’t shoot looters, instead of scattering they would wave to us in the helicopter.” Sources say it is unclear what the current penalty for looting is.
In “Erasing the Past: Looting of Archaeological Sites in Southern Iraq,” an essay in the 2005 book The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, Micah Garen and Marie-Hélène Carleton paint a picture of the organized crime: “Hundreds of people from the surrounding areas dig. . . in small teams of five to ten. There are dozens of antiquities kingpins, who organize large-scale looting, moving thousands of objects out of Iraq each year.”
Since the invasion, the looting of Iraq’s archaeological sites has continued unabated. Up to 15,000 objects are being taken from the ground daily, according to MacGuire Gibson, a professor of Mesopotamian archaeology who has worked extensively in Iraq.
Little is being done to stop it.
Because the looting is highly organized, the natural question is, what criminal activities is it funding? Within the cultural heritage community, there is much talk about whether the pillaging is linked to insurgents led by fundamentalist Shi’ite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. In Fajr, Garen was told that 80 percent of residents are involved in looting nearby archaeological sites. Fajr, along with Rafae and Afak, are rife with looters. These cities, all located in Southern Iraq, are also centers of activity for al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. “The looters are heavily armed and write anti-American graffiti,” says Garen, an American writer and photographer whose documentary on the destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage is slated to come out next year. “Are they linked? I don’t know. There is a lot of circumstantial evidence.”
Garen has spent considerable time in Iraq, including more than a week held captive by Iraqi insurgents in 2004. According to Garen, a member of Iraq’s Parliament told him there are links between the Sadr movement and the looting. However, Garen emphasized that there is no clear connection. “You have to see it as criminal gangs who will loot regardless of who’s in power. Ultimately looting is about money, not about political affiliation. Looting was going on during Saddam—long before there was a Mahdi army.”
Garen also says that there have been rumors of Islamic dictates, or fatwas, involving looting. In Nasariyah, Garen was told of a “hidden” fatwa sanctioning looting as long as the money would be used against coalition forces. He added that the Islamic principle zakat is used to justify looting. The Koran states that everything belongs to God and wealth is held by humans in trust. Through zakat possessions are purified by using them for those in need. One reading of the passage could be that if you believe the money will be used in service to God, you are justified in the actions used to obtain it. Even without a connection to insurgents, sources who have worked in Iraq before and after the invasion agree that looting is a security issue.
Bogdanos explains that although kidnapping is still the primary source of funding for insurgents and other malfeasants, looting generates a lot of cash. “If you reduce looting, you reduce the violence,” he told Museum News. “You force them to find another source of funding.”
Garen and Carleton also make a connection between looting and Iraq’s instability. “Looting happens in the absence of authority,” they write. “This direct relationship is most evident during short periods of increased insecurity. In the spring of 2004, on days when clashes erupted between coalition forces and the [al-Sadr-allied] Mehdi army in southern Iraq, looting at the archaeological sites increased dramatically.”
Sources say looting has increased since the 1991 Iraq invasion and even more so since the 2003 invasion. Garen and Carleton write that it may have picked up in 1992 when a canal was dug through the country, unearthing many pieces of cultural importance. John Russell, an American archaeologist who was part of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad working with the Iraq Museum and State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) from 2003-04, said the official purpose of the canal was for irrigation and drainage of marshes, but the consequence—whether intended by Saddam Hussein or not—was that many farms in the South had water supplies cut off, destroying farmers’ income and leading many to loot for money. Local lore has it that “[s]eeing the treasure [unearthed] led neighboring villagers to begin looting en masse,” they write. Another scenario in which a villager from Fajr happens on a treasure and others follow suit in search of wealth is also a possibility.
Despite its recent roots, looting continues largely because turmoil continues. Garen and Carleton write that Shi’ite-heavy southern Iraq was hurt by economic sanctions following the 1991 war as well as Saddam Hussein’s violent oppression of the Shi’ites. “The effect was more than a decade of rampant poverty and a growing power vacuum that was slowly filled by tribal and religious leadership.”
In addition, says Patty Gerstenblith, director of DePaul University’s program in cultural heritage law and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, the economic sanctions imposed on the country in the 1990s meant that Iraq became increasingly poor. Iraqis turned to looting as a way to earn a living. Because resources were limited by sanctions and because the United States was enforcing a no-fly zone in the South, the Iraqi government had difficulty policing and securing the sites. “Sites get looted because of the lack of political stability, lack of security and poverty,” says Gerstenblith. “You have pretty close to a perfect storm in Iraq. Particularly in parts of the South, all three of those factors are in play.”
At the root of the problem is the lack of trained security guards at each site. According to Donny George, former head of Iraq’s SBAH, which oversaw the archaeological sites, looting decreased by 90 percent at sites that were guarded. For the last two years, the Iraqi government provided funds for guards for the sites. In early 2006, the funding was increased to allow for 1,500 guards, but that money ran out in August. George fled the country in late August with his family, fearing for their safety after a family member was threatened. “When I left, there was nothing left to pay [the guards],” George said in a phone interview from Damascus.
Russell said compensation was not the only issue. “They might have been well paid, but they didn’t have vehicles or communications [equipment]. When you get a band of looters, one guy with a gun is likely to step aside—it’s more of a watchman system.”
He added, “It would take $2 million to cut off the multi-million dollar trade in antiquities.” Included in that figure is the cost of 120 to 150 four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and radio equipment for communication. Salaries are already budgeted by the Iraqi government, he said.
Bogdanos agrees. He estimates that to protect the sites, Iraq needs 50,000-75,000 security and support staff, supplies such as vehicles, weapons, radios and fuel, and training and living quarters. In the afterward of the paperback version of his 2005 book Thieves of Baghdad, Bogdanos lays out a plan he says would solve the sites’ security issues. “[E]ach country would deploy its security forces . . . to the agreed-upon archaeological site(s),” he writes. “Each country’s contingent would also be assigned a group of Iraqi recruits who would live and work with them. Once those Iraqi security forces were fully trained and mission-capable, each assisting nation would recall its forces on a site-by-site basis.
“In six months, virtually every single archaeological site of consequence in Iraq could be completely protected from the looters. And the terrorists? They would have to find another source of income.”
Security was also one of the main areas of concern in a Sept. 23 letter from 14 scholars and other professionals from the worldwide archaeological and cultural heritage communities, urging Iraq’s top government officials to safeguard the country’s museums, archaeological sites and monuments (see sidebar, p. 50). The group stressed that guards for the sites must “continue to be paid and equipped and their numbers increased.” They further asked that SBAH, which oversees the museums and sites and had recently been absorbed by the newly created Ministry of Culture, become an independent agency. More pointedly, the group said, “All persons who work in Antiquities should be above politics and allegiance to any party, and definitely should have no connection to the antiquities trade.” Gerstenblith, one of the signers, adds that officials should be chosen based on their qualifications, not political connections. At this writing, there was no response from the Iraqi officials.
Not long after the invasion, a U.S. Marine serving in Iraq purchased eight 5,000-year-old cylinder seals from a vendor selling trinkets. Figuring that the deal was too good to be true, he turned them over to the FBI for return to proper authorities in Iraq. The total value of the recovery was $30,000.
The swift acquisition and return of those looted antiquities is a relative anomaly. Bonnie Magness Gardiner, the FBI’s art theft program manager, says that when archaeological sites are looted the objects often don’t appear on the market for 10 to 20 years. “You have to keep up that level of recognition that these items might be coming on the market,” she says. “Maybe starting now [the items from the Iraq Museum] will be appearing.”
That is another reason why museums need to be wary of acquiring ill-gotten materials. Gerstenblith cautions that Iraq has had a national ownership law since 1990, meaning that anything unearthed without the government’s permission is considered stolen property. “If it came out of Iraq after 1990, don’t touch it,” she says. “It comes down to playing the odds. Museums shouldn’t be playing the odds with publicly subsidized funds.” This is an especially timely issue, given that countries of origin with national ownership laws are contacting museums about returning allegedly looted objects. The J. Paul Getty Museum, which has been embroiled in legal battles with Italy over the last year, released a statement in October saying it will only acquire antiquities that have been in the United States since before 1970 or that have documentation declaring that they were legally exported. The year 1970 is when the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was signed.
Bogdanos’s strategy is simple. “When was it first photographed? If it appears on the market for the first time in 2006, I mean, come on. If you exercise due diligence and you turn out to be wrong, that’s not criminal. Use common sense.” Gerstenblith adds that buyers should look for reliable documents that trace the object back to its country of origin, or at least cover a few decades, and a warranty from the seller. Buyers should also check the Art Loss Register but should be aware that recently looted items won’t appear there.
The Bush administration has not publicly addressed looting since the Iraq Museum was ransacked in April 2003. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chalked the looting up as an inevitable side effect of the invasion, according to an April 12, 2003, CNN.com story. “Stuff happens,” CNN quoted Rumsfeld as saying. “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”
According to Martin Sullivan, the executive director of the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission and former chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, he and others met with Defense Department staffers several times before the Iraq invasion in 2003 to discuss safeguarding the museum and sites. “All of that had gotten lost. Most of the units on the ground had no orders [to protect cultural heritage sites]. The emphasis was on shock and awe.”
It was the disregard for what was said in those meetings that led Sullivan, along with two other panel members, to resign from the commission. “Probably what made me most upset was the flippant response from the Defense Department,” says Sullivan.
“There was nothing personal to be lost in these resignations. In the absence of any concern, it seemed somebody should be saying something.”
Ret. Army Reserve Maj. Corine Wegener, an associate curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, was deployed to Iraq for a year after the invasion to help rebuild the Iraq Museum. After returning, Wegener gave conservation materials to a colleague assigned to go to Baghdad one year later and work with the infantry in the museum district. She said it took weeks to find a safe window of opportunity to take the 10-minute drive to the museum because it required a full combat operation. “I can’t even imagine what it is like now,” she said. “The overall security situation is such that the looting of the sites is a symptom of that instability]. If you can’t focus on keeping people safe, you can’t focus on the objects.”
In the absence of any short-term solution, the museum and cultural heritage communities are looking at how to prevent future disasters. “We need to establish closer connections between the cultural heritage community and the military so when we’re doing war planning, cultural heritage concerns get incorporated from the very beginning,” says Gerstenblith.
To this end, Wegener has established the Blue Shield, the U.S. branch of an international committee set up in 1996 to respond to armed conflicts that may threaten cultural property (for more on this, see page 11). “We are offering training for [Army] Civil Affairs units on how to give first aid to cultural property—how to recognize what is, art and how to deal with it in an emergency situation and do the best to stabilize the situation until they can get a professional,” she says. The hope is that in the future, it will also be easier to deploy cultural heritage professionals in areas where sites are threatened.
Despite the progress she is making with the Blue Shield, Wegener is not very optimistic about the current situation. “There’s never no hope,” she says. “[However,] people are dying, and it’s really difficult to try and save cultural property in that atmosphere.”
Francis Deblauwe is director of the Iraq War & Archaeology project, a joint ocumentation project of Archaeos, Inc. and the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University of Vienna. He also keeps a running list on his blog, IW&A, of sites that have been looted and damaged in the course of the war. The tally was 43 in November.
Deblauwe said that the archaeological community is at a loss as to how to help, not wanting to push its professional agenda over the value of human life. “We have no illusions that we have a lot of clout in this area,” he tells Museum News. “We lobby, we try, but in the end there’s a big, nasty, bloody war going on. How do you compete with that?” he asks. “You want to worry about artifacts, but you worry about the people more. You feel kind of callous talking about artifacts when you see people getting killed every day.”
The answer may be that there is no answer. Until one becomes apparent and put to the test, those close to the situation watch and wait. Says Sullivan, “We can only hope that at some point, hopefully soon, the ancient heritage of Mesopotamia will be sufficiently respected.”
Meanwhile, with every passing day, thousands of ancient objects leave the ground, their context vanishing with the thefts.
September 23, 2006
H. E. Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq
H. E. Nouri Kamel al-Maliki, Prime Minister of Iraq
H. E. Hoshyar Zebari, Minister of Foreign Affairs
We, the undersigned, would like to express our concern for the present and future state of antiquities and cultural heritage in
Iraq. As individuals who have done research for years in Iraq, who have taught its great history and culture, and who have made
great efforts to call attention to the potential and real damage to Iraq’s cultural heritage due to war and its aftermath, we ask you
to ensure the safety of the museums, archaeological sites, and standing monuments in the entire country. . . .
We also ask that the Antiquities Guards, who have been recruited and trained to protect the ancient sites in the countryside, be
kept as a force, meaning that they continue to be paid and equipped and their numbers increased. This force is the key to halting
the illegal digging of sites and damaging of monuments that has been occurring since April 2003. We furthermore ask that Iraq’s
cultural heritage be treated as part of the rich culture of the Iraqi people, to be preserved for present and future generations. . . .
Iraq’s cultural heritage is an unparalleled one, and as the tradition from which many other civilizations are derived, it is of great
concern to all peoples in the world. . . . For years, with its strong Antiquities Law, that made all antiquities and antiquities sites
the property of the state, Iraq protected its antiquities sites better than most countries in the world, and it should rise to that
level once again.
All persons who work in Antiquities should be above politics and allegiance to any party, and definitely should have no
connection to the antiquities trade. Too much of the ancient treasures of Iraq have already been lost through looting and
smuggling, and the damage done especially to the great cities of Sumer and Babylonia has been very extensive. Only a strong,
national, non-political State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, backed fully by the force of the state, can preserve the heritage
that is left.
You are in positions to save the Cultural Heritage of Iraq for everyone, and we hope that you will act to do so.
Prof. McGuire Gibson, President, The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq
Prof. Robert McC. Adams, Secretary Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution
Dr. Lamia Algailani, Hon. Research Fellow, University College London
Prof. Kenneth Ames, President, Society for American Archaeology
Prof. Harriet Crawford, Chair, British School of Archaeology in Iraq
Prof. Leon DeMeyer, Rector Emeritus, University of Ghent, Belgium
Prof. Patty Gerstenblith, President, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
Dr. Cindy Ho, President, SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone
Prof. Antonio Invernizzi, Scientific Director, Centro Recirche archeologiche é Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente é l’Asia.
Dr. Michael Müller-Karpe, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Mainz, Germany
Dr. Hans J. Nissen, Professor emeritus of Near Eastern Archaeology, The Free University of Berlin, Germany
Dr. Roberto Parapetti, Director of the Iraqi-Italian Centre for the Restoration of Monuments
Prof. Ingolf Thuesen, Director, Carsten Niebuhr Institute, University of Copenhagen
Prof. Jane Waldbaum, President, Archaeological Institute of America
The Ministry of Culture announces the opening of the Iraqi museum early next year
Iraqi national-WNA / Baghdad office / A source from the Ministry of Culture said, that the ministry has set up a committee to re-open the Iraqi museum and to provide the necessary supplies, security and to rearrange again.
The Iraqi Museum has been subjected to looting after the fall of the previous regime, where the number of artifacts stolen from the museum was more than eight thousand assorted pieces.
The source pointed out that the Iraqi museum will be re-opening early next year through the provision of electronic protection and iron gates.
He stressed that the museum was able to rehabilitate some of the artifacts and will be showing more than (70) thousand pieces in all museum halls.
He pointed out that the opening of the museum will be a major event which will reflect the good image of the reality of the new Iraq.
That's the whole story from WNA News
Review by Hashim Al-Tawil in The Arab American News of an exhibit: "Out of Iraq: Artists' Meditations on Their Homeland," currently appearing at the National Arab merican Museum (NAAM) in Dearborn.