The Iraq War & Archaeology

A Documentation and Information Project

Dr. Francis Deblauwe, Director & Editor
Dr. David Nelson Gimbel, Co-Director
Prof. Dr. Gebhard Selz, Co-Director

IW&A was a 2003-2008 project jointly supported by Archaeos, Inc.,
and the Institut für Orientalistik of the Universität Wien
(Institute of Oriental Studies, University of Vienna, Austria) *


see also: IW&A Blog


The country and people of Iraq have experienced many calamities in recent decades: the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War (a.k.a. 1st Gulf War), the 1991 Gulf War (a.k.a. 2nd Gulf War or 1990-1991 Kuwait War) and now the 2003- Iraq War (a.k.a. 2nd or 3rd Gulf War depending on when you start counting).  War in this Cradle of Civilization, beyond the horrendous, almost invisible casualties—always somebody's husband, always somebody's son—and downplayed "collateral damage"—always somebody's wife, always somebody's child—, inevitably takes its toll on the archaeological heritage as well.  After all, this fertile flood plain and surrounding mountains gave birth to agriculture, to writing, to cities, to laws, to the 24 hours in a day, and many more things we take for granted.  Innumerable material remains of these steps on the path of humankind, from prehistory to the present, still lie buried in the soil.  Some emerge just a little, like beacons, reminders of what once was.  But, most still lie hidden beneath.  Archaeologists, hand in hand with cuneiform specialists, have however been able to painstakingly piece together a picture of what Mesopotamia looked like: the make-up of the inhabitants, their economy and trade, their social and political organization, the ebb and flow of states and empires, the awe and tedium of religious practices, etc.

The objects found are not, cannot be the goal, only the means by which to understand what made the ancient Mesopotamians tick.  However, without the objects, no building blocks, no house of knowledge.  Also, the most exquisite of these objects take on a role of their own.  They speak to us directly through the centuries.  Their beauty, their design, their true-to-life-ness, their slice-of-life quality can be more eloquent than a hundred excavation reports.  Rational, quantitative data and eminent objets d'art together with cuneiform tablets, together they provide the least incomplete picture.  The National Museum in Baghdad was the supreme depository of all three.  Thousands and thousands of tablets, still unstudied, lay side by side with tons of excavation data, the minutiae of excavations, quantitative and qualitative observations and facts.  On top of it all, the most visually-eloquent pieces appealed to the lay visitor and specialist alike. None may have been safe for the storm of ignorance, greed, revenge, zeal and mayhem that swept through the Museum.  The US government bears a grave responsibility.  The ongoing plunder of archaeological sites throughout Iraq too was a predictable and predicted catastrophe.  The Masters of War did not in any way plan for this either.

One thing before I go on.  I wish to be absolutely clear: no epic Sumerian cuneiform tablet, majestic Neo-Assyrian lamassu sculpture or any other Mesopotamian artifact is worth a human life, be it Iraqi, American, British or other.

Archaeology, antiquities smuggling, nationalism, colonialism, politics and related issues have always been closely intertwined in the Land Between the Two Rivers.  This site serves to explore, expand and encourage the study of and dialogue about these issues.  From April 2003 through May 2006 I gathered the most interesting articles and sundry bits of info.  They can be found on semi-monthly archive pages.  Bear in mind that some of the links have gradually become obsolete as web sites either were taken down or articles/photos/videos moved or materials shifted to paying sections of their sites.  For copyright reasons, I generally could only link, not provide actual copies or downloads.  Third, I review the relevant web sites.  On a separate page, The Iraq War & Archaeology. Satire & Humor, I gathered some of the subtle and less-subtle examples of satire and cartoons on the subject.  A list of professional organizations' appeals to the powers that be in 2003 is to be found on another separate page.  Finally, IW&A contains the following special features (now outdated): best guess of the losses at the National Museum in Baghdad; the editor's online articles, interviews, etc.; relevant web sites; running tally of sites looted and damaged in the course of the Iraq War; writing/petition actions. From 2006 to 2008, the IW&A site became focused mainly on the IW&A Blog and the digital series IW&A Documents.

The project remains online and is still frequently consulted as an archive of the damage to the archaeological heritage of Iraq as a result of the Iraq War.

Francis Deblauwe, Ph.D.
fdeblauwe [at] gmail [dot] com
twitter: @fdeblauwe
personal web site


Reviewed and Annotated Articles (discontinued)

The articles and other information are on the archive pages (chronologically according to publication date, most recent listed first).

Almost all are accessible for free (or after a free registration) on the internet.  Each time, I tried to draw attention to the most relevant tidbits of information, esp. things that were not mentioned before; occasionally, I provided some comment and other annotations.  The usual warning applies: many links become defective with time.  Inclusion in the list does not in any way mean that I or Archaeos, Inc., or the University of Vienna 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 or Archaeos, Inc., or the University of Vienna 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.

Best guess of the losses at the National Museum (no longer updated)

(very approximate numbers based on all available info, my evaluation of the quality of same info, and lots of extrapolation and common sense; also taking into account that the comparison with the inventory is not yet finished)

• ca. 1,100 artifacts on public display: 4% missing
• ca. 490,900 artifacts in Museum storage rooms: 2% missing
• ca. 600 valuable artifacts in storage in Central Bank: 0% missing
• ca. 8,400 public-display artifacts in secret storage location: 0% missing

ca. 501,000 artifacts in total, of which 2% (ca. 11,500) still missing or not yet returned

To put it another way:
ca. 15,500 originally stolen, of which ca. 4,000 returned and another 3,000 or so said to already have been recovered abroad but not yet returned; this would mean only ca. 8,500 (2%) truly still missing

• contrary to press and US military reports, the 39,453 manuscripts and scrolls found in a bomb shelter in western Baghdad were the Saddam House of Manuscripts (now renamed Iraqi House of Manuscripts) collection and not a part of the Museum holdings
• the frequently mentioned total figure of 170,000 reflects the inventory numbers; however, lots of individual inventory numbers cover large groups of artifacts

Editor's online articles, interviews, etc. (outside the project web site)(no longer updated)

Editor's other academic materials

Screen saver

A Mac OS X screen saver using Dr. John M. Russell's photos taken in the aftermath of the looting of the National Museum in 2003.  You can download it here (> 2 MB).

Relevant web sites

* This site was started on April 2, 2003.  It was part of an ongoing project conceived and managed by Dr. Francis Deblauwe, a Belgian archaeologist living in the US.  He was affiliated with Archaeos, Inc., a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to archaeological education and research.  He wishes to thank Dr. David Nelson Gimbel and José Alcayaga III for their enthusiastic encouragement and logistical support.  Dr. Deblauwe was also a research associate with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the University of Vienna (Austria).  He is equally grateful to Prof. Dr. Gebhard Selz and Mag. Friedrich Schipper for their unwavering support.

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To the many people who have helped to find articles, provided information, support or encouragement, esp. Neville Agnew, José Alcayaga III, Mark Altaweel, Julia Assante, Susanne Baghestani, Zainab Bahrani, Heather D. Baker, Gojko Barjamovic, Ellen Belcher, Malcolm Bell, Virginia Bower, Sylvie Browne, J.V. Canby, Marie-Hélène Carleton, Elizabeth F. Carter, Dominique Collon, Deborah Conner, Jerrold Cooper, Jim Davila, Nico Deblauwe, Richard Ellis, Robert K. Englund, Frederick Mario Fales, Jim Falls, Mary Finn, Madeleine Fitzgerald, Alyssa Franks, Ulrich Franz, Michael Fuller, Micah Garen, Donny George, Patty Gerstenblith, McGuire Gibson, Jim Grant, Eric Gubel, Lucian Harris, Rick Hauser, Cindy Ho, Lysa Hochroth, Jack Holladay, Firas Jatou, Chuck Jones, Dorothy King, Rafał Koliński, Günter Krause, James Kuhn, Andrew Lawler, Andre Lebedev, Kathleen Louw, Renata Liggett MacDougal, Pat Marino, Tania Mazza, Jack Meinhardt, Paolo Merlo, Piotr Michalowski, Jeff Morgan, Michael Müller-Karpe, David Myers, Michael O'Connor, Sara Orel, Sam Paley, Gaetano Palumbo, Roberto Parapetti, Giovanni Pettinato, Gloria Piardi, Philipp Rassmann, Clemens Reichel, Andras Riedlmayer, John M. Russell, Nerissa Russell, Jack Sasson, Friedrich Schipper, Barnea Selavan, Marcel Sigrist, John Simmons, Carol Snow, Jeff Spurr, Rick St. Hilaire, Thomas Strasser, Benjamin Studevent-Hickman, Lynn Swartz, René Teijgeler, Margarete van Ess, Michel van Rijn, Tom Waliczek, Lamia al-Gailani Werr, Mark Wilson, H. Winkler, Cornelia Wunsch and Karina Zajadacz.

This project page was last updated on July 22, 2013.

© 2006 Archaeos, Inc., a non-profit organization. All Rights Reserved.

Impressum und Offenlegung gemäß §24 und §25 MedienG 2005:

Projekt: The Iraq War & Archaeology ("IWA")
Medieninhaber: Institut für Orientalistik der Universität Wien
Anschrift: Spitalgasse 2, Hof 4, A-1090 Wien
Verantwortlicher Redakteur: Dr. Francis Deblauwe