Le site Bellaciao: coloré, multiple, ou le meilleur cotoie fort heureusement le pire, mélangé, bizarre, picabien et dadaîste, explorant toutes sortes de registres et de régimes rhétoriques, drole et polémiqueur, surréaliste: rencontre d'un parapluie et d'une machine à coudre sur une table de dissection, têtes de Lénine sur le clavier d'un piano Steinway ou Bosendorfer...
FR
ES
Senal en Vivo
VIDEO
RADIO
FRIENDS SITES
with Bellaciao
Bellaciao hosted by
To rebel is right, to disobey is a duty, to act is necessary !
Bellaciao  mobile version   |   Home  |   About us   |   Donation  |   Links  |   Contact  |   Search
The Devastation of Iraq’s Past by Hugh Eakin (URUKNET)

by : Emily
Thursday July 31, 2008 - 11:03

URUKNET.INFO July 27, 2008

In May 2003—some eight weeks after the American invasion had begun— Abdul-Amir Hamdani, the archaeology inspector of Dhi Qar province in southern Iraq, traveled to Najaf to call on the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. He had an urgent request. "We needed his help to stop the pillage," Hamdani recalled. The province, which is midway between Baghdad and Basra, covers much of what was once the land of Sumer. In the third millennium BC, it was a fertile plain densely populated by such cities as Ur, Lagash, Girsu, Larsa, and Umma; today, the shifting course of the Euphrates and Saddam Hussein’s brutal campaign to drain the marshes, to the southeast, have left it in large part an impoverished wasteland. With the fall of the Baathist regime, hundreds of poor farmers and villagers—often backed by armed militias—were turning to archaeological plunder; in some Dhi Qar towns, such as al-Fajr, the black market trade in antiquities was accounting for upward of 80 percent of the local economy.

JPEG - 20.4 kb

Al-Sistani was sufficiently moved by Hamdani’s plea to pronounce a fatwa. He proclaimed that digging for antiquities is illegal; that both Islamic and pre-Islamic artifacts are part of Iraqi heritage; and that people who have antiquities in their possession should return them to the museum in Baghdad or in Nasiriya, the capital of Dhi Qar province. Copies of the fatwa were distributed widely in the south, and published in the Iraqi press. "At this point some of the looters stopped their work, because when Ayatollah al-Sistani says something, they listen," Hamdani said.

The fatwa was a small victory in what has been, for Hamdani, a largely intractable struggle to save one of the deep sources of human culture. Settling in the southern part of what the Greeks later called Mesopotamia some six thousand years before the birth of Christ, the Sumerians developed year-round cultivation, built the earliest city-states, and devised a complex system of writing. Over time, the area came under the sway of the Akkadians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians; later, it fell under Persian and Hellenistic influence before the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. Left behind were the rich remains of history and literature, often in the form of baked mud-brick tablets covered with wedge-shaped script called cuneiform; and small engraved seals—cylinder-shaped objects made of imported hematite, lapis lazuli, and other semiprecious stones that, when rolled onto wet clay or other soft material, produce intricate and often stunningly beautiful impressions of ancient life and ritual.

Remote and mostly lacking in monumental architecture above ground, the buried cities in which this material was preserved withstood centuries of violence, from the arrival of Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BC to the Mongol invasion in 1258. An absence of much subsequent urban development also meant that the archaeological record was unusually clear. Yet since 2003, several important sites have been destroyed beyond recognition; perhaps tens of thousands of cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets have been removed and channeled into the underground art market.

"What is currently taking place in southern Iraq," Gil Stein, the director of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, writes in the catalog to "Catastrophe!," the institute’s disturbing new exhibition on the subject, "is nothing less than the eradication of the material record of the world’s first urban, literate civilization." All the more remarkable, at a time of growing international concern for the devastating effects of archaeological plunder, the destruction of Sumer following the 2003 invasion was largely unchallenged by American and British forces. How did this happen? 1.

Since the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in April 2003, the international press has accorded considerable space to the country’s imperiled ancient heritage. Much of this coverage, however, has been devoted to the museum, the impressive campaign to recover its stolen works, and the continued struggle to reopen its galleries. (They remain closed.) Only occasional, anecdotal reports—mostly from the first year of the conflict—have borne witness to large-scale plunder of archaeological sites, to which the damage is irreversible.

In large part, the problem for journalists is the number of sites—there are over a thousand, many of them remote, in Dhi Qar province alone—and the danger posed by any attempt to investigate them. Micah Garen, a freelance filmmaker and photographer who, along with his partner Marie-Hélène Carleton, is perhaps the only Western journalist to have reported extensively on the looting in the south, was kidnapped by a gang with links to the Mahdi Army while visiting a black market in Nasiriya in 2004. He was held hostage for nine days, an ordeal recounted in Garen and Carleton’s recent memoir, American Hostage. The looters also have powerful connections that can intimidate their enemies: in early 2006, Hamdani was thrown into jail for three months on trumped-up charges after attempting to rein in the activities of a developer with close ties to the antiquities trade.

The dearth of firsthand accounts, in turn, has led to much confusion about the extent of the looting, its chronology, and its underlying causes. The destruction of sites, for example, has been blamed on everything from the Sunni insurgency and al-Qaeda in Iraq (also known as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia) to treasure-hunting soldiers. The mystery has been heightened by the sense, among many in the art world, that remarkably little Iraqi material has been surfacing on the art market. Theories about the whereabouts of plundered objects have varied from storerooms in Damascus and Dubai to living rooms in the US and Japan.

This June, for the first time since 2003, a small group of archaeologists, led by John Curtis, curator of the Middle East collections at the British Museum, were able to visit eight major sites in southern Iraq in a helicopter provided by the British forces stationed in Basra. Their mission was limited—the eight sites were south of the region where looting has reportedly been heaviest. But at the sites they visited, they found that the digging was far from uniform. Uruk, Eridu, and Lagash suffered little or no looting; while Larsa and other sites had been extensively looted. "One shouldn’t underestimate the role that local people can play in this," Curtis told me after the trip. "No doubt that at Lagash, they were actively preventing looting. At other places, they might have been actively engaged in it."[1]

These new insights have been strengthened by an analysis of satellite images by Elizabeth Stone, an archaeologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who accompanied Curtis on the June survey. In the months preceding the 2003 invasion, DigitalGlobe Corporation, a Colorado company, began taking satellite photographs of southern Iraq for the Pentagon. Stone realized that these high-resolution images were particularly suited to documenting the mounds, or tells, of buried Mesopotamian cities, including any fresh digging and trenches. With support from the National Geographic Society, the National Endowment for Humanities, the State Department, and several other institutions, she began buying up the images, and by the time she published her findings earlier this year, she had data on nearly two thousand archaeological sites.[2]

As sheer documentation of knowledge destroyed, the pictures are chilling. Some of the most revealing discoveries about Mesopotamia—from the royal tombs at Ur to the literary texts of Nippur—have come from excavations in southern Iraq. And yet, Stone estimates that the total extent of the recent looting is

many times greater than all archaeological investigations ever conducted in southern Iraq—and must have yielded tablets, coins, cylinder seals, statues, terracottas, bronzes and other objects in the hundreds of thousands.[3]

And since these objects have been ripped from their archaeological settings, which in many cases have been destroyed, much of the potential information contained in them—even if they do resurface—has been obliterated.[4]

Still more striking, however, is what the satellite pictures tell us about the looters. First, despite the existence of important Mesopotamian sites throughout the country, intense, organized looting has occurred only in certain areas. Others who reported on the issue immediately following the invasion concluded that sites in the north had not been much targeted. But Stone is also able to show that some areas of southern Iraq, including Central Babylonia, to the south of Baghdad, and the Eridu Basin south of Nasiriya have remained largely intact; the heavy looting has been mostly confined to a sizable, but well defined, swath of territory around northwest Dhi Qar and the borderlands of its neighboring provinces—precisely the area where Hamdani has observed a booming antiquities trade.

Second, the images make clear that the first big wave of looting actually occurred before the arrival of Coalition forces. By the end of 2002, state authorities had largely abandoned the region of Sumer, along with other parts of the south, and photographs from early 2003 show evidence of rampant fresh digging at numerous small and medium-sized sites, many of them unstudied by archaeologists. Stone suggests that the timing of these initial excavations coincided with "the threat of hostilities—and presumably the mistaken expectation of increased security [by the US invaders] thereafter." Digging at some larger sites also began around this time, but seems to have accelerated greatly—and in more organized fashion—after the looting of Baghdad, in April and May 2003, when several of the most important known sites, including Isin and Umma, were largely destroyed. (At Isin the holes appear much blacker in the satellite images than at other sites, indicating deep trenches that reach down to the earliest stratum of human history there.[5] )

Finally, Stone is able to show with some precision that the hard-core looting, where it has occurred, has been selective. Prehistoric and early Bronze Age sites down to the time of Uruk—the first great city-state, where, in the early third millennium BC, the legendary Gilgamesh was king—were not much disturbed. Nor were the many sites in the region from the Neo-Babylonian period (630–539 BC) or from the Islamic era. In contrast, digging amounting to ransacking is evident at some sites dating from the Akkadian period (2335–2100 BC), when cylinder seals developed into an elaborate art form; there was also heavy looting at sites from the Old Babylonian era (2000–1600 BC), particularly known for its cuneiform tablets; and at sites from the centuries when the region was under Persian and Hellenistic influence (538 BC–637 AD), when works of glass and coins were in wide circulation.

What are we to make of these findings? For one thing, they bear out the observations of Iraqi archaeologists—and of the recent expedition led by John Curtis—that the people who have been involved at ground level belong to certain of the tribes native to Dhi Qar and neighboring provinces. Though underreported in the Western press, a system of tribes or khams has provided the backbone of rural Iraqi society for centuries. Until the first Gulf War, tribal hierarchies in the south were suppressed by the state, but they were increasingly reconstituted during the UN embargo of the 1990s, and tribal leaders have become a central source of authority in the vacuum of power since 2003. The area where heavy looting has occurred, for example, is largely under the control of a few tribes.

According to several archaeologists I spoke to, the support of their sheiks has been crucial to turning the plunder of artifacts from a criminal activity into what tribesmen now view as a legitimate form of income. A dealer in one of the market towns might pay five or ten dollars for small inscribed objects and fragments; a cylinder seal of particular beauty, or an intact cuneiform tablet, might get as much as fifty dollars—about half the monthly salary of an Iraqi civil servant. The dealers would in turn sell the objects to smugglers for many times their original value; by the time they reach the international art market, such objects could be worth four, five, or even six figures. Stone sculptures, which are relatively rare, might be worth far more.[6]

Tribes in the south often regard the ancient sites as part of their own land, and for some of them, these prices have made the harvesting of objects—from soil that is otherwise no longer arable —seemingly irresistible. "Most of the tribes approve of the looting," Donny George, the former director of the State Board of Antiquities, told me. (He was forced to leave Iraq in 2006 and is now a visiting professor at Stony Brook.) "And they control the towns where the antiquities trade is run."

That al-Sistani has been moved to intervene, moreover, suggests that some of those involved have attempted to use religious authority to give legitimacy to their digging. Behind the tribal activity in northwest Dhi Qar, then, is also a larger story about the fate of the Shiites—and the ancient land they inhabit—in the final years of Saddam’s Iraq.[7]

2.

In a 1979 speech, Saddam Hussein declared that "antiquities are the most precious relics the Iraqis possess, showing the world that our country…is the legitimate offspring of previous civilizations which offered a great contribution to humanity." Saddam’s heavy-handed efforts to turn Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar into forebears for Baathist expansionism are well known. (A better model might have been the Assyrian tyrant Assurnasirpal II, whose reign of terror in the ninth century BC included mass incinerations of the civilian populations he conquered.) Still, the Iraqi dictatorship maintained one of the more successful archaeology administrations in the Middle East. The State Board of Antiquities was well funded; several generations of Iraqi archaeologists worked closely with their Western counterparts at sites across Iraq; a large and flourishing museum establishment was developed; and site looting was virtually nonexistent. (Saddam would later decree that looting was punishable by death.)

In his informative recent book, Reclaiming a Plundered Past: Archaeology and Nation Building in Modern Iraq, Magnus T. Bernhardsson, a historian at Williams College, suggests that this privileging of Mesopotamian history was owed in part to the controversial legacy of the British Mandate in the 1920s. An important aim of British power in the region, he observes, was securing unfettered access to ancient sites, although Gertrude Bell’s farsighted policy of dividing the spoils with the Iraqi state made possible a remarkable era of archaeological discovery. It also helped bring the Mesopotamian heritage to the forefront of Iraqi politics, to the point that, by the 1970s, the Baathist regime could view the pre-Islamic past as a way to construct an Arab nationalist ideology that transcended sectarian differences that the regime violently suppressed. Amply funded by the oil boom, Sumerian and Babylonian sites in the south were for the most part carefully maintained, and, according to several archaeologists I spoke to who worked in Iraq at the time, were often a source of local pride.

All of this changed, however, with Saddam Hussein’s brutal crackdown on Shiites after the first Gulf War. During the 1991 uprisings that were encouraged by the US, Shiites (along with their Kurdish counterparts in the north) attacked and looted a number of regional state museums, which were associated with the regime. While archaeological sites were not immediately targeted in this way, Saddam’s ensuing punishment of the south—which destroyed the region’s fragile agricultural economy—had devastating effects. "Saddam was telling the people of southern Iraq, ’it’s not your civilization,’" Hamdani recalled. "And if it’s not your civilization, why protect it?"

Neglected sites in areas populated by impoverished farmers provided an opportunity for the international antiquities market. Together with small sculptures and Mesopotamian jewelry, cuneiform tablets or fragments containing mathematical or literary texts were attaining prices in the tens of thousands of dollars. Of even greater interest were cylinder seals, which had been actively pursued since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when J.P. Morgan had been a major buyer; in the 1990s, there were several international collectors acquiring them in large quantities. An auction of Near Eastern cylinder seals at Christie’s in 2001 netted close to $1.5 million, with top lots—such as a green serpentine seal, from the late third millennium, containing a remarkable depiction of bejeweled Akkadian deities; or an obsidian seal, from the thirteenth century BC, showing a Kassite aristocrat leading two restive horses—selling for well over $100,000.

By the mid-1990s, archaeologists were frequently identifying Iraqi material in auction catalogs and private galleries in London and New York, including clay tablets that, they said, clearly came from recent excavations at sites in Dhi Qar, such as Umma.[8] "It will forever be considered a marvel," the archaeologist John Russell writes in the catalog to "Catastrophe!," "that at the same time the United States was enforcing against Iraq the most rigorous sanctions regime in history…tens of thousands of previously undocumented Iraqi antiquities were sold openly on the US market."

The UN sanctions regime also made it possible for looters and smugglers to operate with impunity. "The no fly zone in the south of Iraq was essential to the trade," the archaeologist McGuire Gibson writes in The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, a new volume of essays by different authors who have followed the crisis. "Without [Iraqi] helicopter surveillance, it was very difficult for the Iraqi authorities to control the countryside." Objects were leaving the country through Jordan, Syria, and Kurdistan, as well as the Gulf; most of the material was headed for the West.

In fact, this activity had begun to be brought under control in the years preceding the Iraq war. In 1999, with new funds from the UN Oil-for-Food Program, Iraq’s State Board of Antiquities began hiring local people to do year-round excavations at Umma and several other of the most vulnerable sites. The idea was that those formerly involved in looting could be trained to work as archaeologists—and given an alternative source of income. Donny George, who directed several of these excavations, told me that the looting did stop, and important recovery work was done. But as the Iraqi regime began to prepare for invasion in late 2002, the rescue excavations were shut down. Worse, there were now well-trained teams of local diggers who knew what to look for and where. 3.

In the weeks following the US-led invasion and the sacking of the Iraq Museum in April 2003, the international press began to report large-scale looting at several archaeological sites in southern Iraq. In late May, a front-page story in The New York Times described how the remains of the Sumerian city of Isin, northwest of Nasiriya, were being destroyed by "mobs of treasure hunters." The plunder was attributed to the general "anarchy and lawlessness" that followed the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime —a further instance of the looting that had occurred in Baghdad a few weeks earlier.

In fact, what appears to have been taking place at Isin was less anarchic rampage than an organized enterprise involving entire tribes and their communities. In another essay in The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, a Lebanese journalist and archaeologist, describes her visit to a number of sites in the south in May 2003. "Dhi Qar," she writes, was under the total control of the looters and antiquities dealers. Heavily armed, they controlled the main roads leading to the biggest archaeological sites thereby providing security for their "employees." These were hundreds of farmers who had left behind their families to actually live on the sites and search for antiquities…. Their days started before sunrise for a few hours, and then the heat would force them to stop until late afternoon when a second shift would begin, continuing until late into the night. They were well equipped: they carried shovels and hammers, and they had made their own lamps run off car batteries.

Largely ignored by Coalition troops stationed in the south, this mass mobilization had created a new looting economy controlled by the tribal hierarchies and the dealers they worked with. Archaeologists who witnessed the looting in 2003 and 2004 have pointed out that they had to have the authorization of the local sheik even to gain access to a site. But there also was another important source of legitimacy for this former capital offense: the religious and sectarian parties the invasion had brought into power.

As was the case in the 1991 uprising, the looting of Baghdad in April 2003 was partly motivated by animosity toward the Saddam regime. Targets included ministries, office buildings, the houses of Baathist leaders, and official cars, as well as institutions like the Iraq Museum and, tragically, the National Library, which was looted and burned; and many of those involved were angry young Shiites from Sadr City. In his informative new account of the Sadrist movement, Patrick Cockburn, a veteran Iraq correspondent, describes Muqtada al-Sadr’s startling response to the mass looting of state property:

The looters became universally known in Iraq as al-Hawasim, meaning "the finalists." The term was a derisive reference to Saddam Hussein’s claim that an American invasion of Iraq would provoke "a final battle." In May, Muqtada issued what became known as the al-Hawasim fatwa, saying that looters could hold on to what they had expropriated so long as they made a donation (khums) of one-fifth of its value to their local Sadrist office.

It remains unclear whether there were explicit edicts along these lines in reference to archaeological sites. But Iraqi officials I spoke to say that local religious leaders affiliated with the Sadrist movement have condoned the antiquities trade insofar as it produces funds and does not—in theory—involve Islamic material. "Some of the followers of Sadr were writing on banners at some of the archaeological sites that [Muqtada] does not stop anyone from looting if they would sell [the looted objects] to get weapons or build a mosque," Donny George told me. For Hamdani, it became clear that to change the local plunder economy, he would need the tribal and religious authorities on his side. He cultivated ties to the sheiks; he began visiting mosques in the principal black market towns, to try to get the message out in Friday sermons; and then he decided to call on the Ayatollah al-Sistani himself.

Since many poor Shiites in the south are not followers of al-Sistani, his fatwa against looting did not solve the problem. But it did result in a remarkable breakthrough: a looter who had been moved by al-Sistani’s order contacted the museum in Nasiriya, where Hamdani was stationed. "He told me he had a lot of information about the smugglers and the black market," Hamdani said. Hamdani gave him a digital camera and a Global Positioning System device that looked like a cell phone and sent him back to work. He became a key informant for the State Board of Antiquities, providing photographs and locations about diggers and the people who hired them. With the help of Italian forces then stationed in the south, dozens of arrests were made, and hundreds of antiquities were recovered. But the Italians left in 2006, leaving unanswered a more perplexing question: Where was all the looted material going?

4.

In late January, I was taken to a large warehouse in East Amman, the working-class part of the Jordanian capital that has absorbed tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees since the war began. The warehouse was owned by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, and it was full of Iraqi materials: Aramaic incantation bowls, Akkadian seals, Old Babylonian agricultural records, stone sculptures, Sassanian glass, Parthian jewelry, Roman and Islamic coins, and other antiquities— some of them marked with labels from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.[9]

Along with other neighboring states, Jordan is frequently mentioned as one of the principal gateways for illicit archaeological material from Iraq, and these objects, confiscated by Jordanian officials in only a handful of seizures, give some idea of the extent of the cross-border trade in looted cultural property. (Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archive, who has spent the last five years rebuilding this institution in war-torn Baghdad, told me that he had been contacted by a person in Amman who claimed to have some important documents stolen from its holdings. He wanted to sell them back to the library for $50,000.)

Yet perhaps most interesting about the artifacts in the warehouse was their variable quality. Among some important pieces, there was a lot of junk, and the Jordanian archaeologist who accompanied me suggested that a number of the artifacts were modern fakes. Most had been confiscated in the months immediately following the invasion, and some of them appear to have been in possession of everyday refugees who had little sense of their value. Fawwaz al-Khraysheh, the director of the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, told me that no major seizures of looted artifacts have occurred since 2004.

Several people who are familiar with the antiquities market in the region suggest that larger smugglers are not working through Jordan, which is relatively far from the principal area of looting and which, together with Syria, has cooperated with Iraq on policing antiquities theft. (In late April, Syria returned to Iraq some seven hundred antiquities confiscated since 2003; in June, Jordan returned more than two thousand objects, including those I had seen in Amman.) Rather, the principal smuggling routes appear to be across the Iranian and other southern borders, to the Persian Gulf, where the material might be "warehoused" for a number of years, or privately sold with few questions asked.

As the Persian Gulf states, funded by the oil boom, have become Middle East trade hubs, they have also quickly developed into centers of art and antiquities collecting. According to a cuneiform scholar I spoke to with extensive contacts in the Middle East, a prominent Kuwaiti sheik has amassed a large collection of Mesopotamian artifacts, including much recently looted material from Iraq. Another destination may be Israel. The country is known for its liberal approach to the antiquities trade; one American curator told me it is possible to buy "virtually anything" in Jerusalem’s old markets. In September 2005, Israeli officials seized a container full of looted Iraqi artifacts at the airport in Tel Aviv. The Israeli press reported that it had passed through Dubai and London, and was the largest such seizure in Israeli history.

Iraqis themselves suggest that the most plausible smuggling routes have been through Iran and Kurdistan. Donny George observes that the governments of Iran and Turkey have until now demonstrated little interest in policing their borders for antiquities smugglers, and Kurdish and Iranian dealers are believed to be involved in the trade. Since the 2003 invasion, moreover, large numbers of Iranians have been making pilgrimages to Najaf, Karbala, and other Shiite holy sites, creating cross-border traffic that facilitates smuggling.

Some of this material has already reached Western shores. Since 2003, Britain and the United States have had bans in force against trading in recently surfaced Iraqi antiquities, and unlike during the 1990s there have not been large auctions featuring cuneiform tablets and other Mesopotamian material. Even eBay has taken measures to prevent trading in looted artifacts.[10] Yet newly surfaced Iraqi material—in particular objects of lower and middle value—has been traded on the Internet, through smaller on-line auction and gallery sites. In recent Google searches, I found several Web sites that sell foundation cones—small cone-shaped objects covered with dedicatory inscriptions that were embedded in the walls of important buildings in the third and early second millennia—and other cuneiform artifacts for prices ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Some are identified as coming from particular sites in "Southern Mesopotamia."

5.

For several years now, archaeologists and cultural property specialists, as well as nongovernment groups such as UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund (which in 2006 took the unprecedented step of putting Iraq as an entire country on its list of most endangered sites), have been voicing alarm about the rapid destruction of Iraq’s ancient past. These efforts, many of which are documented in a new collection of policy-minded essays, Antiquities Under Siege, have done much to keep this neglected aspect of the Iraq crisis in view. They have also underlined the failures of US and British forces to plan for—and, after the invasion, to provide—even basic protection of archaeological sites.

Yet in reading these essays, one often senses a detachment from the reality of what has been happening in Iraq. Since the bombing of the Samarra mosque in early 2006—itself a terrifying indication of the degree to which cultural monuments have become part of the war—foreign cultural officials have largely avoided travel outside of the main cities and military bases. UNESCO’s Iraq office, for example, has for some time occupied a temporary facility in Amman; when I visited officials there early this year, I was told that travel to Iraq had been strictly limited for security reasons.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, the cultural administration has suffered from larger power struggles within the Iraqi government. In 2006, the State Board of Antiquities was subsumed into a new Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, which has been controlled by the Sadrist bloc in parliament. The ministry has shown little interest in providing resources for site protection, and "tourism" appears to refer mainly to pilgrimages to Islamic shrines. By late 2007, there was very little fuel available to gas up the trucks that had been supplied by a private American foundation and by UNESCO for Iraqi patrols of archaeological sites.

Today, there are signs that the worst looting may be over. To the extent that the excavations have produced the quantity of material estimated by Elizabeth Stone, the underground market has surely been saturated by now, bringing down prices. Stone and John Curtis also found that none of the eight sites they visited with British forces in June had been looted since the immediate aftermath of the invasion. Indeed, some of the damage discovered by the British expedition was a result not of looting, but of defensive positions that appear to have been dug by the Iraqi army shortly before the US-led invasion. In the case of Ur, the site has been protected from looting by an adjacent military air base, but has suffered degradation from the thousands of Coalition troops who until recently had open access to it. (A more shocking case of site damage by Coalition forces occurred in 2004 at Babylon, as documented by Zainab Bahrani, a scholar of Near Eastern art and archaeology at Columbia University.[11] )

Of course, these findings provide scant consolation for what appears to have been one of the most concentrated and devastating episodes of archaeological destruction in modern history. In The Buried Book, his recent account of the rediscovery of The Epic of Gilgamesh, David Damrosch observes that the poem portrays Gilgamesh as one of the great kings of Sumer by emphasizing his accomplishments as "custodian of ancient cities and monuments that have to be maintained and repaired." Indeed, in the prologue of the epic, the poet describes the story he is about to tell as an artifact of the past, to be discovered—as in fact it was by archaeologists in the nineteenth century—and carefully preserved:

[See] the tablet-box of cedar [release] its clasp of bronze.

[Lift] the lid of its secret [pick] up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out the travails of Gilgamesh, all that he went through…

The example of Gilgamesh was forgotten in 2003, and we may never know how many other such "secrets" have been lost as a result.

—July 15, 2008 Notes

[1] Citing the June survey, recent reports in The Art Newspaper and The Wall Street Journal have somewhat breathlessly suggested that little or no looting in southern Iraq actually occurred. To the contrary, the findings provide further evidence that organized plunder was both extensive and selective, bearing out earlier indications that some large sites were not affected. For a formal report on the eight sites inspected in the survey, see www.britishmuseum.org/iraq.

[2] Elizabeth C. Stone, "Patterns of Looting in Southern Iraq," Antiquity, Vol. 82 (Spring 2008), pp. 125–138. A less technical account of her findings is contained in her essay in the catalog to "Catastrophe!"

[3] It should be stressed that until further information comes to light, any attempt to quantify the number of objects removed is by nature conjectural. The number of cuneiform texts that have surfaced in the West remains small, although anecdotal evidence indicates that far larger quantities may be in the Middle East or elsewhere. Thousands of cylinder seals remain at large from the Iraq Museum alone, and the extent of the looting holes and the number of sites involved give some weight to a number well into the tens of thousands, if not higher.

[4] It has been observed that archaeological "context" may matter less for inscribed objects, whose own texts contain important historical information and often identify where they are from. Mesopotamian texts have frequently been found together, however, in buried libraries or collections of tablets, the existence of which has made it possible to use texts to draw broad conclusions about politics, culture, and daily life. Once texts from such a group are dispersed it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct that group and its significance. I am grateful to Piotr Michalowski for this point.

[5] For a study of the damage at Isin and its surrounding area using similar techniques as Professor Stone’s, see Carrie Hritz, "Remote Sensing of Cultural Heritage in Iraq: A Case Study of Isin," in TAARII Newsletter, The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq, Spring 2008, available at www.taarii.org/newsletters/.

[6] In December 2007 a three-and-a-half- inch limestone Standing Lioness Demon, dating from the beginning of the third millennium and said to be found near Baghdad in the early twentieth century, sold at Sotheby’s for $57 million, an auction record for an antiquity or piece of sculpture.

[7] Notwithstanding claims made in the press, a direct connection between the plunder and Sunni insurgent groups appears unlikely, according to Iraqi officials I spoke to and to archaeologists who have studied the satellite evidence.

[8] The attraction of Umma, a city of great importance in the late third millennium, can be attributed to environmental factors as well. Covered by dunes for many decades, it had been inaccessible to archaeologists; but the shifting sands exposed it again by the 1990s, and it quickly became known among looters, as it had been early in the twentieth century, for its cuneiform tablets from the Ur III period. Around 20,000 tablets have been published from the site. I am grateful to Robert K. Englund for this point.

[9] Many of these works were helpfully catalogued by a research team from the Center for Archaeological Research and Excavations in Turin. See An Endangered Cultural Heritage: Iraqi Antiquities Recovered in Jordan, edited by Roberta Menegazzi (Florence: Le Lettere, 2005).

[10] In August 1990, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the UN mandated general sanctions on goods from Iraq. It was not until the second Iraq War, however, that legislation specific to Iraqi cultural property was enacted in the United States. In May 2003 the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for the return of cultural goods to Iraq and the prohibition of trade in such items. In 2004, the US Congress passed the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act, which allows the president to impose restrictions on the import of any artifacts illegally removed from Iraq after August 1990.

[11] Professor Bahrani, at the time an adviser to the Iraq Ministry of Culture stationed at Babylon, published her findings in "Days of Plunder," The Guardian, August 31, 2004. See also the British Museum report on Babylon by John Curtis, who concludes that the site suffered "substantial damage" as a result of its occupation by Coalition forces.

BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE

* Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past, an exhibition at the Oriental Institute Museum, Chicago, April 10–December 31, 2008. Catalog of the exhibition edited by Geoff Emberling and Katharyn Hanson. * The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq, edited by Peter G. Stone and Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly * Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection After the Iraq War, edited by Lawrence Rothfield * Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, by Patrick Cockburn * Reclaiming a Plundered Past: Archaeology and Nation Building in Modern Iraq, by Magnus T. Bernhardsson * The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh, by David Damrosch * American Hostage, by Micah Garen and Marie-Hélène Carleton

http://internationalnews.over-blog....



Leave a comment
Print this article





PEOPLE OF COLOR: THE NFL DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOU
Tuesday 17 - 23:07
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
TRUMP, JONES, THE NFL, AND THE NEW MCCARTHYISM
Tuesday 10 - 23:14
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
Catalonia referendum: 90% voted for independence, say officials (video)
Monday 2 - 09:55
Catalonia referendum: ’Spanish authorities are the criminals’ (video)
Monday 2 - 09:47
If I was truly evil
Tuesday 12 - 14:22
Yves Bouvier Faces Swiss Tax Investigation
Saturday 9 - 03:27
by lishk
The Polisario front suspected of double-play around humanitarian aid hijacking
Friday 8 - 21:44
by NathanT
The Polisario front suspected of double-play around humanitarian aid hijacking
Friday 8 - 21:37
by Nathan Taylor
AMERICA’S JUDASES
Sunday 27 - 20:02
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
What happend to Soraya and Hussein Khashoggi?
Friday 25 - 20:38
by Perseus
The falling Max Ehrich
Thursday 17 - 19:40
by celbbetty
DAMN THE NFL
Wednesday 16 - 01:44
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
Overplaying your hand
Thursday 10 - 12:36
Gujarat Flood 2017 Devastation- Inevitable or Orchestrated in Dhanera ?
Thursday 3 - 06:19
by Dwarika Nath Rath
Multiple citizenship & Zionist subversion of America, Australia, India, Humanity
Wednesday 2 - 03:10
by Dr Gideon Polya
I’M AN IDIOT AND I VOTE
Thursday 27 - 23:23
by David R. Hoffman
The Top Ten Art Scandals That Have Rocked the World
Tuesday 18 - 15:48
by Curtis Judge
John Pilger slams Mainstream silence re Apartheid Israel crimes: Free Palestine
Thursday 13 - 02:43
by Dr Gideon Polya
RUSSIAN MAFIA – NOW IN DUBAI?
Monday 3 - 14:52
by James Dolay
THE NFL IS RACIST
Saturday 1 - 00:31
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
Australian Finkel Review has dirty energy for 50 years & ignores 25 key issues
Monday 19 - 03:37
by Dr Gideon Polya
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: JUSTICE FOR PHILANDO CASTILE
Sunday 18 - 01:03
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
Find out what is true and false about climate change - Kenneth Pouchet
Friday 16 - 17:43
by Kenneth Pouchet
Freedom For Me, But Not You
Wednesday 31 - 02:17
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
Post-Apartheid, non-racist, One State, democratic Palestine can happen tomorrow
Tuesday 30 - 08:21
by Dr Gideon Polya
A Review of Gilad Atzmon’s new book, “Being In Time: The Post-Political Manifes
Wednesday 17 - 21:23
by June Terpstra
Avoiding Another War in North Korea
Sunday 14 - 18:27
by William John Cox
Judah Ben Hur for President 2020
Saturday 13 - 16:15
by William Morgan
ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT FOR DONALD J. TRUMP
Saturday 13 - 02:33
by David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Report
As War Party shadow boxes, its agenda surges unopposed
Friday 12 - 14:28
by Daniel Patrick Welch
Yves Bouvier caught in a real estate bankruptcy
Thursday 11 - 20:19
by Pierre Gove
Book: This Is How The State Fucks Your Mind
Tuesday 9 - 19:16
by OAF
ISRAEL’S 1967 ATTACK ON INTELLIGENCE SHIP U.S.S. LIBERTY - THE ONLY MYSTERY
Thursday 20 - 20:06
by JOHN CHUCKMAN
Denmark eaten down to the bone, what’s next?
Wednesday 19 - 16:22
by Henrik Petersen
A Financial Toll Tax: Transform, Not Reform, the U.S. Tax System
Monday 17 - 22:55
by William John Cox
COMPLETE DEGRADATION OF A SELF-STYLED GREAT NATION
Saturday 8 - 16:35
by JOHN CHUCKMAN
ATTACKING PEOPLE WITH FLEETS OF MISSILES BEFORE YOU HAVE ANY FACTS
Friday 7 - 20:34
by JOHN CHUCKMAN
Syrian rebels used Sarin nerve gas, not Assad’s regime: U.N. official
Thursday 6 - 23:09
by Shaun Waterman
TRUMP’S FRIGHTENING TURNAROUND ON SYRIA – A STRONG SIGNAL ABOUT WHO REALLY RUNS
Thursday 6 - 17:22
by JOHN CHUCKMAN
AMERICA’S POLITICS WITHOUT MEANING - THE FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THE COUNTRY
Thursday 30 - 17:37
by JOHN CHUCKMAN

home | webmaster



Follow-up of the site's activity
RSS Bellaciao En


rss FR / rss IT / rss ES



Bellaciao hosted by DRI

Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry. Susan B. Anthony
Facebook Twitter Google+
DAZIBAO
I, European citizen, won’t let refugees be rejected in my name
Thursday 10 March
©Olivier Jobard/Myop I, European citizen, won’t let refugees be rejected in my name THE RIGHT TO ASYLUM IS A RIGHT In the phrase « right to asylum », every word matters. Under the law, every person who is persecuted because of his or her political opinions or because of his or her identity, every person that is endangered by violence, war or misery has a RIGHT to seek asylum in another country The aim of this petition is to collect (...)
read more...
Neo-Nazis and far-right protesters in Ukraine 3 live-stream
Friday 24 January
2 comments
The far-right in Ukraine are acting as the vanguard of a protest movement that is being reported as pro-democracy. The situation on the ground is not as simple as pro-EU and trade versus pro-Putin and Russian hegemony in the region. When US Senator John McCain dined with Ukraine’s opposition leaders in December, he shared a table and later a stage with the leader of the extreme far-right Svoboda party Oleh Tyahnybok. This is Oleh Tyahnybok, he has claimed a "Moscow-Jewish mafia" (...)
read more...
Hugo Chavez is dead (video live)
Wednesday 6 March
by : Collective BELLACIAO
1 comment
President Hugo Chavez companeros venezueliano died after a long battle with cancer.
read more...
International initiative to stop the war in Syria Yes to democracy, no to foreign intervention!
Thursday 13 December
Your support here: http://www.peaceinsyria.org/support.php We, the undersigned, who are part of an international civil society increasingly worried about the awful bloodshed of the Syrian people, are supporting a political initiative based on the results of a fact-finding mission which some of our colleagues undertook to Beirut and Damascus in September 2012. This initiative consists in calling for a delegation of highranking personalities and public figures to go to Syria in order to (...)
read more...
THE KU KLUX KLAN ONCE AGAIN CONTROLS INDIANA
Monday 12 November
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
7 comments
At first glance, the results of America’s 2012 election appear to be a triumph for social, racial, and economic justice and progress in the United States: California voters passed a proposition requiring the rich to shoulder their fair share of the tax burden; Two states, Colorado and Washington, legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while Massachusetts approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes; Washington and two other states, Maine and Maryland, legalized same-sex (...)
read more...
I’VE DECIDED TO "WASTE" MY VOTE
Sunday 28 October
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
In a 2004 episode of Comedy Central’s animated series South Park, an election was held to determine whether the new mascot for the town’s elementary school would be a “giant douche” or a “turd sandwich.” Confronted with these two equally unpalatable choices, one child, Stan Marsh, refused to vote at all, which resulted in his ostracization and subsequent banishment from the town. Although this satirical vulgarity was intended as a commentary on the two (...)
read more...
HIGHER EDUCATION IN AMERICA: DREAM OR NIGHTMARE? PART IV
Friday 28 September
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
PART I PART II PART III If there is one major inconsistency in life, it is that young people who know little more than family, friends and school are suddenly, at the age of eighteen, supposed to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, because of their limited life experiences, the illusions they have about certain occupations do not always comport to the realities. I discovered this the first time I went to college. About a year into my studies, I (...)
read more...
HIGHER EDUCATION IN AMERICA: DREAM OR NIGHTMARE? PART III
Friday 28 September
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
PART I PART II PART IV Disillusioned with the machinations of so-called “traditional” colleges, I became an adjunct instructor at several “for-profit” colleges. Thanks largely to the power and pervasiveness of the Internet, “for-profit” colleges (hereinafter for-profits) have become a growing phenomenon in America. They have also been the subject of much political debate and the focus of a Frontline special entitled College Inc. Unlike traditional (...)
read more...
HIGHER EDUCATION IN AMERICA: DREAM OR NIGHTMARE? PART II
Friday 28 September
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
PART I PART III PART IV Several years ago, a young lady came into the college where I was teaching to inquire about a full-time instructor’s position in the sociology department. She was advised that only adjunct positions were available. Her response was, “No thanks. Once an adjunct, always an adjunct.” Her words still echo in my mind. Even as colleges and universities raise their tuition costs, they are relying more and more on adjunct instructors. Adjuncts are (...)
read more...
HIGHER EDUCATION IN AMERICA: DREAM OR NIGHTMARE? PART I
Friday 28 September
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
PART II PART III PART IV When The Bill of Rights was added to the United States Constitution over two hundred years ago, Americans were blessed with many rights considered to be “fundamental.” One conspicuously missing, however, was the right to an education. This was not surprising given the tenor of the times. America was primarily an agrarian culture, and education, especially higher education, was viewed as a privilege reserved for the children of the rich and (...)
read more...
ONE SOLITARY LIFE, PART TWO
Monday 30 July
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
3 comments
If there is one universal question that haunts all human beings at some point in their lives, it is, “Why do we die?” Death, after all, is the great illogic. It ultimately claims all, the rich and the poor, the mighty and the small, the good and the evil. Death also has the capability to make most human pursuits—such as the quest for wealth, fame and power—vacuous and fleeting. Given this reality, I have often wondered why so many people are still willing to (...)
read more...
HOW MUCH CORRUPTION CAN DEMOCRACY ENDURE?
Thursday 28 June
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
6 comments
How much corruption can a “democracy” endure before it ceases to be a democracy? If five venal, mendacious, duplicitous, amoral, biased and (dare I say it) satanic Supreme Court “justices”—John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy—have their way, America will soon find out. In several previous articles for Pravda.Ru, I have consistently warned how the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is one of the (...)
read more...
DEMOCRACY IN THE HANDS OF IDIOTS, PART TWO
Tuesday 12 June
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
1 comment
Imagine, if you will, that the United States government passes a law banning advertisers from sponsoring commercials on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show or Rupert Murdoch’s Fox (Faux) “News” Network. On one hand, there would be two decided advantages to this ban: The National IQ would undoubtedly increase several percentage points, and manipulative pseudo-journalists would no longer be able to appeal to the basest instincts in human nature for ratings and profit while (...)
read more...
DEMOCRACY IN THE HANDS OF IDIOTS
Thursday 7 June
by : David R. Hoffman, Pravda.Ru Legal Editor
4 comments
LIVE, from the State that brought you Senator Joseph McCarthy, Wisconsin voters now proudly present, fresh from his recall election victory, Governor Scott Walker! At first glance, it is almost unfathomable that anyone with a modicum of intelligence would have voted to retain Scott Walker as Wisconsin’s governor. This, after all, is a man who openly declared he is trying to destroy the rights of workers through a “divide and conquer” strategy; who received 61% of the (...)
read more...
PEOPLE WITHOUT SOULS
Tuesday 13 March
by : David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru
2 comments
A question I’ve frequently been asked since I began writing for Pravda.Ru in 2003 is, “Why did you become disillusioned with the practice of law?” This question is understandable, particularly since, in most people’s minds, being an attorney is synonymous with wealth and political power. I’ve always been reluctant to answer this question for fear it will discourage conscientious and ethical people from pursuing careers in the legal profession—a (...)
read more...