The Iraq War & Archaeology
Reviewed Articles Archive Fifty: Second 1/2 of April 2005





This is the fiftieth archive of the reviewed articles of The Iraq War & Archaeology web site.


Francis Deblauwe, Ph.D.




The articles and other information are listed chronologically, most recent first.
Almost all are accessible for free (or after a free registration) on the internet.  Each time, I try to draw attention to the most relevant tidbits of information, esp. things that were not mentioned before; occasionally, I provide some comment.  The usual warning applies: many links become defective with time.  Inclusion in the list does not in any way mean that I necessarily agree with the opinions expressed in an article.  But for a few exceptions, the occasional photos and figures accompanying reviewed articles are just hotlinked images on other web sites, in other words: do not download them or request permission to publish them from me, for I do not own the copyright to them in any way!  Please do contact the rightful owners if you would like to use them for publication purposes. Finally, for the sake of convenience, all articles and so on are assumed to have been published on US web sites unless indicated otherwise.

  • J. Walker, "Guardian of treasures beneath sands of time," in The Courier-Mail (Australia), April 30, 2005: " The last time the thieves came it was just Muhar Altubi and his trusty AK-47 against four of them. ... Mr Altubi, 65, calls himself custodian of the dead city of Uruk. Now he's hoping that Australian troops will help him protect the Mesopotamian ruins that date back more than 6000 years, ..." "The four thugs he confronted last winter had been digging for at least two days in search of engraved Sumerian tomb markers. ... 'When I saw them, I shouted at them to leave, get off this land. What is buried here doesn't belong to any man. It belongs to the world.' In the ensuing gunfight, Mr Altubi said he shot one of the looters and pinned down the others long enough for his sons to arrive and chase them off. Dutch soldiers who were operating in the area later helped the local police capture the surviving gang members. Learning of the threat to the ruins, Japanese military engineers built a 2m-high steel fence around them. Soldiers from the Iraqi National Guard are supposed to be on the main gate but, this being chaotic Iraq, they rarely turn up. ... he would like to be able to count on the support of the Australian troops who have replaced the Dutch forces in Iraq's south-western Al Muthanna Province. 'Maybe they can help me buy a Toyota,' he said, hopefully. 'I walk all day, and I am tired of it. If I had a car I could check the fence more often. ... The commander of the Al Muthanna Task Group, Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Noble, doubts whether his resources will stretch to that. ... 'Although we don't have a mandate to protect buildings and ruins, we will certainly do what we can to help people who are threatened in any way.' Mr Altubi has been at his lonely post for 30 years. His tribe's ancestral lands cover Uruk and as a young man he worked with the German archeological teams ..." "Mr Altubi fished in a mound of stony earth for the precious mud brick he had hidden there, stamped with the royal seal of a Sumerian king. He retrieved the artefact from the backpack of a US soldier in 2003 after coalition forces swept through in pursuit of Saddam's retreating army."


Photo: "Lonely vigil . . . Muhar Altubi watches over the Mesopotamian ruins of the dead city of Uruk in desert country west of As Samawah in Iraq. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen."
  • D. Shinn, "UA's Akins Collection offers bits of history. New digs dedicated today; 600 to 700 objects included," in Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio), April 29, 2005: "Thousands of little pieces of clay pots are lying in boxes inside a small room called the Akins Collection at the University of Akron's Olin Hall. They're awaiting the hands of students, who will use them to familiarize themselves with ancient artifacts ..." "They were found by former ambassador James Akins (a University of Akron graduate), his wife and their children on weekend picnics in the countryside around Baghdad back in the 1960s. The pieces were generally scattered around on the ground, near ancient temples and old burial mounds, said Timothy Matney, associate professor of archaeology in the UA department of classical studies, anthropology and archaeology, ... Last year, Akins donated a large portion of his collection to the university. ... today, the university will dedicate the James E. and Marjorie A. Akins Collection ..." "The collection includes 600 to 700 objects, including more than 100 complete vessels, from prehistoric (5000 B.C.) to early Islamic (A.D. seventh century). There are also thousands of potsherds and a collection of small stone cylinder seals, ..." "Akins said he gave the artifacts to the university because of their historical importance. 'What happened to Iraq in the last 12 years and particularly this year has been absolutely heart-rending for us,' he said. 'The looting and the destruction of the National Museum and the National Library with its unparalleled collection of early Islamic books was one of the great tragedies of history.' ... 'We have I think a total of 11 pieces that have ancient writing on them, ..." "One of the more distinctive pots is painted with crosshatchings of black and red. This is called a Scarletware vessel, and it comes from Mesopotamia's Early Dynastic Period." "There's a lot of talk these days about illegally exported antiquities, and Matney was quick to point out that technically, these objects are legal. 'The current accepted model is that any antiquities removed before 1970 is [sic] legal ..."


Photo: "Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal - This tablet has examples of writing from Mesopotamia. It's in the Akins Collection at the Universy of Akron's Olin Hall."
  • B. van Elk, "Culturele CIMIC specialisten veel gevraagd in het buitenland: EHBO’ers op cultureel gebied," in Defensiekrant (the Netherlands), 17 (April 28, 2005): "EHBO'ers" = first-aid assistants;  interview by Dutch military magazine with art historian/archaeologist Lieutenant Colonel Joris Kila and anthropologist/conservation expert Major René Teygeler who are "militarized" [not career military, kind of co-opted specifically for this type of work only] cultural experts of the NATO CIMIC Group North (CGN) and were stationed in Iraq; their task is to protect cultural heritage in war and crisis areas as well to provide expert advice to the military in place; contrary to the sometimes attitude in the West, [high] culture in the Middle East is not an insignificant luxury but an integral part of daily life, e.g., people actually read poetry, tell stories; culture is in many ways what creates the national memory; Kila was stationed in Iraq early on and helped to set up a program to have the site of Uruk (near modern Warka) guarded by the local bedouin tribesmen, paid by the German archaeologists who had been active there for decades and by some of the SFIR (Dutch military in Iraq) commanders; as a result, Uruk is one of the few archaeological sites in Iraq that was not plundered [substantially]; Teygeler went to Iraq later on [in 2004; to relieve Kila, I guess? not clear] for 8 months and has become the leading Dutch cultural expert on Iraq; international civilian cultural experts will only return to Iraq when the security situation is OK so in the meantime CIMIC experts are indispensable; their military status gives them leverage with the military command structure to get some things done or understood, e.g., avoid damage by US soldiers to the highly revered and iconic Imam Ali mosque in Najaf among other things by having Iraqi soldiers deal with the actual mosque during the attack; also mediating between the military and organizations like UNESCO and Blue Shield or advising the Iraqi Ministry of Culture; outside the military, Teygeler runs a cultural-heritage research and consulting firm; 350 local people have been hired to guard the archaeological site of Babylon after the military camp was closed down, at a cost of $5,000/year, trained and armed by the Polish military [see also Maris April 5, 2005]

  • Photos: "Foto's: Joris Kila en René Teygeler" [I'd like to thank René Teygeler for allowing me to post the pictures here; I screen-captured and reduced them from the pdf file]

    Photo 1: "Op het opgravingsterrein ligt eeuwenoud puin met spijkerschrift voor het grijpen." [centuries-old remains with cuneiform inscriptions can be found easily on the archaeological site][Babylon, brick]

    Photo 2: "Het terrein van Babylon had zwaar te lijden van de vele militaire voertuigen." [the site of Babylon suffered damage from the many military vehicles][tire tracks]

    Photo 3: "Dieven plunderden het museum in de dagen pal na de Amerikaanse inval." [thieves looted the museum in the days right after the American invasion][National Museum, Baghdad, April 2003]

    Photo 4: " René Teygeler arriveert per helikopter in Babylon." [René Teygeler arrives in Babylon by helicopter]

    Photo 5: "Het graafwerk aan de grootste grafheuvel van Oeroek heeft jarenlang stilgelegen." [excavations of the largest burial mound in Uruk were halted for years][sic; it's a ziggurat, i.e., a temple tower/platform, not a burial mound]

    Photo 6: "Ook luitenant-kolonel Kila bezocht Bagdad." [Lieutenant Colonel Kila also visited Baghdad]

    Photo 7: "Om grotere schade te voorkomen werden betonnen blokkades met een heli verplaatst." [concrete barriers were moved by helicopter to avoid further damage][Babylon]

    Photo 8: "Het historische terrein werd door veel gevaren bedreigd zoals een benzinestation." [the historical site was threatened by many hazards such as this gas station][i.e., soil pollution]

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  • J.F. Bajjaly, "History lost in dust of war-torn Iraq," in BBC News (UK), April 25, 2005: [she usually publishes under her Farchakh name]; "It is two years since looters ravaged one of the world's most important museums, in central Baghdad. ... Professional smugglers connected to the international antiquities mafia managed to break some of the sealed doors of the Baghdad Museum storage rooms. They looted priceless artefacts such as the museum's entire collection of cylindrical seals and large numbers of Assyrian ivory carvings. More than 15,000 objects were taken. Many were smuggled out of Iraq and offered for sale. To date, 3,000 have been recovered in Baghdad, some returned by ordinary citizens, others by the police. In addition, more than 1,600 objects have been seized in neighbouring countries, some 300 in Italy and more than 600 in the United States. Most of the stolen items are unaccounted for, but some private collectors in the Middle East and Europe have admitted possessing objects bearing the initials IM (Iraq Museum inventory number). An ever-growing number of websites also offer Mesopotamian artefacts - anywhere up to 7,000 years old - for sale. Doubtless, there are more fake objects advertised on the web than authentic ones, but the mere existence of this market has fuelled the looting of archaeological sites in southern Iraq. The picture there is appalling. More than 150 Sumerian cities dating back to the fourth millennium BC - such as Umma, Umm al-Akkareb, Larsa and Tello - lie destroyed, turned into crater-filled landscapes of shredded pottery and broken bricks. If properly excavated, these cities - covering an estimated 20 sq km - could help us learn about the development of the human race. But the looters have destroyed the monuments of their own ancestors, erasing their own history in a tireless search for a cylinder seal, a sculpture or a cuneiform tablet that they can sell to a dealer for a few dollars. It is tough, poorly paid work carried out by jobless Iraqis with no way of earning a better income. 'A cylinder seal or a cuneiform tablet brings in under $50 on the site for the looter,' explains the archaeologist responsible for the district of Nasiriya, Abdul Amir Hamadani. 'It's a disaster that we are all witnessing and observing, but which we can do little to prevent. With the help of 200 newly recruited police officers we are trying to stop the looting by patrolling the sites as often as possible. But we are now all alone. Italian carabinieri troops were the only coalition forces that actively worked on this issue for a few months. They used to patrol the region by land and from the sky. They have stopped all their operations and are now simply helping train policemen and guards.'"
    "The withdrawal of coalition troops from Babylon has revealed irreversible damage to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. An alarming report by the keeper of the British Museum's Near East department, Dr John Curtis, describes how areas in the middle of the archaeological site were levelled to create a landing area for helicopters and parking lots for heavy vehicles. ... 'US military vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavements, archaeological fragments were scattered across the site, more then 12 trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists. Add to all that the damage caused to nine of the moulded brick figures of dragons in the Ishtar Gate by people trying to remove the bricks from the wall.' There will be no end to the destruction of Iraq's heritage, unless the country's leaders take a political decision to consider archaeology a priority. For this, the ring of dealers in Baghdad has to be seized, looting in the south has to be effectively confronted and coalition forces have to be prevented from setting up base on archaeological sites. The longer Iraq finds itself in a state of war, the more the cradle of civilization is threatened. It may not even last long enough for our grandchildren to learn from."

    Photo 1: "Warka Lady - The Warka Lady was one of the most important pieces in the Baghdad Museum's collection, and dates from about 3100 BC. It has been dubbed the 'Mona Lisa' of the Sumerian period. The alabaster face was stolen from the museum in April 2003 and recovered by Iraqi police in June 2003."

    Photo 2: "Salamanasar II - A statue of the Assyrian king, Salmanasar II, thought to have been looted during the ransack of the museum. It was returned to the museum in May 2003, broken into pieces."

    Photo 3: "Basitki statue - The bronze statue of Basitki, dating back to the Akkadian kingdom of 2300 BC, was stolen in April 2003. It was recovered by Iraqi police and US soldiers in July 2003."

    Photo 4: "Winged bull - This is the human head of a relief of a winged bull, from the palace of King Sargon II in Khorsabad (721-705 BC). It is on display at the Assyrian Gallery in the Baghdad Museum. Its great weight of many tons would have deterred looters."

    Photo 5: "Assyrian angel - This Assyrian 'angel' from the ancient city of Khorsabad, which 721-705 BC (in what is now north-eastern Iraq) is also on show in the museum's Assyrian Gallery."

    Photo 6: "Cylinder seals - Sumerian cylinder seals of stone, bone, ivory, and wood were looted. They were carved with recessed inscriptions, which left a raised impression when rolled on wet clay. These miniature works of art were used to indicate personal identity and in their time would have been everyday objects."

    Photo 7: "History in pieces - But many items were stolen or destroyed by looters. Here, broken pottery lies in the dust at Larsa, a major Sumerian capital in today's Nasiriya [region], in southern Iraq."

    Photo 8: "Looted Sumerian sites now resemble the surface of the moon" [Tell Jokha (ancient Umma)?]
















  • "Tracking the Trade," in Archaeology, online, April 21, 2005: interview with Roger Atwood, author of "Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World" (2004): "Only in Iraq, at Isin, where I was so scared that my interpreter literally had to hold my hand. The place was being turned inside out by bootleg diggers, and I was terrified that as soon as they realized that we were not buyers, that they would throw us off the site or worse. I happened to be with a German archaeologist, Susanne Osthoff, who was one of the bravest people I've ever met and who encouraged us to keep exploring even as she was watching the demolition of her former study site." "In the short term, what do you think is the most effective thing governments can do to stop the flow of illegal antiquities? For governments that haven't ratified the UNESCO agreement of 1970, the first step would be to do that. The biggest holdout is probably Germany. For those that have ratified, the most effective measure now would be to sign more bilateral agreements with countries that are under assault from the antiquities trade to ban the import of unlicensed antiquities from those countries. It's a slow process, but it can help cool looting at the source. In the United States, the government could tighten the donation-for-deduction regime that allows collectors to donate antiquities of often-dubious provenance to museums." "Also, the Met[ropolitan Museum, New York] has exhibited a group of ancient Iraqi cylinder seals that it says came into its collection in the late 1990s. I think the museum might explain how it got those seals, considering that Iraq at that time faced looting of ancient sites and was under U.N. trade sanctions. I'm not accusing the Met of anything; I just think a word of explanation would be good."


Photo: [no caption]


This site is edited by Belgian archaeologist Francis Deblauwe, Ph.D., living in Streamwood, Illinois (USA), who is affiliated with Archaeos, Inc., and a research associate of the University of Vienna (Austria).