September 21, 2006


More on the 52nd RAI

I just looked up the minutes of the IAA general meeting in Münster this summer. In reference to the previous post, this is how the discussion is reported by Dr. Van Soldt:

Policy on unprovenanced texts

Because of powerfully-held but diametrically opposed opinions on issues related to the status of unprovenanced documents and artifacts, the IAA did not succeed in forming a committee of Assyriologists and archeologists that could formulate a position paper for presentation to the membership. Since no committee was formed the matter was tabled for the time being.
M. Müller-Karpe read a statement concerning the restriction of banned material in Germany. In his statement he urged the German government to lift the restriction. [sic; I think this is the opposite of what M.-K. meant!] D. George pointed out that the publication of looted tablets will lead to more looting. To make this stop the looted material should be handed back to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.There is a suggestion from the audience to prepare a data-base of looted material. However, most looted objects come from sites and are not previously known.

I looked through the online preliminary program for the same RAI too and noticed the following IW&A-related paper: Giovanni Pettinato, Italienische archäologische Tätigkeit im Iraq [sic] 2004-2006: his activities in Iraq have been quite controversial so it would be interesting to hear more...


Report on the 52nd RAI in Münster

Here's an interesting e-mail from my backlog, sent to me on July 27 by Benjamin Studevent-Hickman (University of Chicago). He attended the 52nd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale (International Congress of Assyriology & Near Eastern Archaeology) in Münster and was so kind to clue me in. Let me extract the most interesting info:

• Dr. Donny George and several other Iraqi officials attended. Studevent-Hickman unfortunately missed his talk which seems to have been organized at the last minute. This is indeed borne out by the fact that he wasn't included in the program.

• During the annual general meeting of the International Association for Assyriology, Dr. Michael Müller-Karpe presented a statement similar to the one he presented last year at the RAI in Chicago. This time he focused specifically on the law proposed recently by the German government to ratify the UNESCO Convention of 1970:

We therefore welcome that Germany has announced, it will ratify the UNESCO convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970). However,we understand that the draft law, which the cabinet has passed and which is now in the process of approval by the parliament, provides protection to cultural property of Non-EU-states only if listed as single, "individually identifiable" items published in the German Bundesanzeiger (Government Gazette). All other objects, especially loot from undocumented illegal excavations, which can not possibly be published in such lists, will continue to be traded freely. Also excluded from restrictions will be items which were smuggled from the countries of origin before the new law has come into force--even if published in the Bundesanzeiger. In the future, evidence that an artifact had left its country of origin before that date will be sufficient to allow it to be bought and sold legally ... We suggest extending the protection of the proposed import, export and trade restrictions to include cultural goods beyond the few objects published in the Bundesanzeiger, to include all archaeological artifacts with the exception of those proven not to be from illegal excavations and not exported in violation of the laws and regulations of the country of origin.

Müller-Karpe argued that the law is too weak due to the result of lobbying by antiquities dealers. During the short discussion time allotted, it was remarked that other German archaeologists also have been lobbying government officials for some time, and one female archaeologist [who?] actually asked Müller-Karpe not to send the statement to the authorities as it would be counterproductive. [sic]

• Also during the IAA general meeting, it was announced that there would be no proposal for a statement on the problem of looting, particularly concerning unprovenanced artifacts. After the heated discussion in Chicago last year, the board of the IAA had been tasked to set up a committee to investigate the issue and report back this year. The president, Dr. Jack Sasson, however announced that no progress had been made and, given the complexity of the issue, any further efforts would be tabled until things "cool down" a bit. My thoughts are still the same as last year: it's a sad reflection of our field of study that we can't agree on how to deal with a phenomenon that has and is still destroying the remains of ancient Mesopotamia...


International Congress "Cultural Heritage and New Technologies"

On October 18-20, the 11th International Congress Cultural Heritage and New Technologies will take place again in Vienna, Austria.

The most interesting section is Workshop 2, How to Publish "Old" Excavations With New Technologies, (Wed. Oct. 18) which is chaired by Dr. Sam Paley (The University at Buffalo, SUNY). Let me point out a few papers:

• Sam Paley, How to publish "old" excavations with new technologies – Nimrud Citadel: "... to provide a resource for schools, colleges and univiersities to teach about a pradigmatic site for Neo-Assyrian archaeology and to make our records available for the legal authorities who are searching for looted artifacts and prosecuting offenders. This paper will explain our goals and show what has happened to some of the antiquities as they have reached the market."

• Adam Lowe (Factum Arte), Replicating Cultural Heritage – The repatriation of all known fragments of the eastern end of the throne-room of Ashurnasirpal II in facsimile form: "Factum Arte, with United Exhibits Group (Copenhagen) and the Ministry of Culture of Iraq, has scanned all the known fragments from the eastern end of the throne-room. The resulting facsimile will be the centre piece in an international touring exhibition: The Golden Tombs of Iraq, treasures from Nimrud and after the exhibition will be given to the Iraq Museum, Baghdad. High resolution laser scanning and white light scanning has been completed at The British Museum (London), The Pergamon (Berlin), The Staatliche Kunstsammlungen (Dresden), the Sackler Art Museum, Harvard and The Art Museum, Princeton University. Over 100 sq meters of relief carving have been recorded, the majority at a resolution of 100 microns."

• F. Gabellone and G. Scardozzi (IBAM – CNR, Lecce, Italy), Integrated Technologies for the reconstructive Study of Mesopotamian Cultural Heritage: "... research conducted under the aegis of the 'Iraq Virtual Museum' project, which entails the publication on the web in the near future of a number of archaeological sites and inestimable treasures of Mesopotamian culture. The project is being promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through the general directorate of the Mediterranean/Middle East region, Task Force Iraq), while the scientific coordination has been entrusted to the Italian National Research Council (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche)." "Until now the research activities of our group have encompassed the sites of Ur, Uruk (the Sumerian Room) and Nimrud (the Assyrian Room). A study has been made of the settlements with the help of satellite images, which have provided new data on the topographical aspects of the cities being studied. In addition, a number of objects that are representative of Assyrian and Sumerian culture (some which have been lost as a result of the recent conflict) have been reconstructed by means of three-dimensional image-based modelling (photo-modelling and digital photogrammetry)."

• Heather Baker (Universität Wien), Reconstructing Ancient Babylon: Problems and Prospects: "Many of the published plans of Babylon as it is supposed to have looked during the time of Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) are misleading because the methods used in reconstructing the city layout are based on false premises which can be traced back to works published in the 1930s." "... offer some thoughts on alternative approaches to reconstructing the city using the excavation records and the written sources for its topography."

On Friday October 20, there will be a session organized by our friend and colleague Friedrich Schipper (Universität Wien): UNESCO-Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970) – the status quo. The most relevant papers here are:

• Gebhard Selz (Universität Wien), Plundered, Stolen and Destroyed. The World Heritage of Mesopotamia in a historical perspective: "... history and memory are always connected to the political sphere, from which we have to discuss the changing reasons for this sort of continued barbarism."

• Michael Müller-Karpe (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Mainz, Germany), Laundering Antiques of Illegal Origin: Germany’s Struggle against Ratifying the UNESCO Convention of 1970: "... the draft law, which the cabinet has passed and which soon will be approved by the parliament, is primarily oriented to the demands of an affluent antiquities dealers’ lobby. It perverts the goals of the convention." I again call on my readers to join in the e-mail writing campaign.

September 20, 2006


We're back!

Guess what: I figured out how to set up and work this blog format. It's too late now to start writing much but suffice it to say that there's a lot to catch up since I stopped reviewing articles. A major new development is of course Dr. Donny George's leaving Iraq. The reasons he gave had to do esp. with the Sadrist party taking over the ministry and the SBAH (pushing out professionals in favor of political appointees) and the ever-deteriorating security situation. Positive news was the return of the statue of Entemena. But more about all that later. Peace and justice, you all!