October 20, 2006


Hugh Eakin article in Men's Vogue

In a press release by Men's Vogue magazine, a lead article by Hugh Eakin is described that looks like it deals with the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq. However, the magazine website does not yet list any info on the November/December issue. Has anyone seen a copy yet? If so, could you be so kind to pass on to me how relevant it really is to IW&A? I'll post your summary/review here if the article is interesting enough. Here are some quotes from the press release:

In the November/December issue of Men's Vogue, Hugh Eakin travels into a world of organized crime -- the underground antiquities business -- that has now taken on a violent new form in conflict-torn Iraq. Eakin visits Cerveteri, a site northwest of Rome, to watch Italian investigators from the Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, or TPC, at work. It is here that the TPC-the arm of the carabinieri charged with protecting Italy's cultural heritage-demonstrates an impressive reconnaissance mission to inspect a remote area that has been assaulted by tomb raiders, and displays a robust military operation that is now being tested against art theft, and possibly terrorist networks, in Iraq. ... [Eakin] writes, "some of the TPC's tactics are beginning to be applied in volatile regions like Iraq, where security experts suggest that looting maybe intertwined with terror networks." ... The recent news of Donny George, president of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, resigning and fleeing the country only adds suspicion to a powerful black market. Eakin notes that George had been trying to station TPC-trained guards at Iraq's most important archaeological sites. But the TPC's commander, General Ugo Zottin, insists that any links between antiquities thieves and terrorist organizations "have to be tested in court." And for all of the TPC's high-profile recoveries throughout Italy with night raids, military helicopters, and hard-nosed detectives, former TPC chief Roberto Conforti insists that when it comes to cracking down on art theft in a war zone, "Iraq is another story."

• "Italy's Art Cops Target Iraq, Where Looting May Be Funding Terrorism - Men's Vogue Travels With the Carabinieri's Special Unit," in Yahoo! Finance, online, October 18, 2006

October 19, 2006


Latest news from Hatra

"Remains of the giant columns, temples and fortifications of the 2,600-year-old city of Hatra tower over the Iraqi desert. This was a major city along the Silk Road. Hatra sent caravans of traders throughout the Middle East with spices, woodwork and gems. It was a tolerant center of diverse religions that twice repulsed Roman invaders. Now the 1st Battalion of the 37th Field Artillery Regiment from Fort Lewis does daily combat patrols in the area, and religious tolerance is hard to come by. Just a month ago, a suicide car bomber killed several people in the neighboring settlement of al-Hatra. But the U.S. soldiers draw inspiration from the beautiful ruins, hoping someday they can be a world-renowned center of tourism." "The Mosul area, where most Fort Lewis soldiers in Iraq are stationed, was the capital of the powerful Assyrian empire 700 years before the birth of Christ. Jonah, the biblical figure fabled for being swallowed by a whale, is said to be entombed in a mosque in a dangerous part of Mosul. There’s an abandoned Christian monastery dating from sometime before 595 A.D. on Forward Operating Base Marez, where Fort Lewis soldiers in Mosul live. The chaplain gives tours." [For this Dair Mar Elia (St. Elijah Monastery), see Walsh] "A U.N. archeological team investigated the site and found looters damaged two features after the U.S. invasion in 2003. The archeologists also complained the U.S. was threatening the stability of the buildings through the destruction of stockpiles from a nearby Iraqi ammo dump. ... The blasts were reduced, and the U.S. and Iraqi forces now have secured relative calm in this area, although insurgents operate not far away." "The Stryker brigade troops said they want to add Hatra protection to the list, although a bid for a security fence came in too high at $700,000. The unit is working on other ways to secure the site."

• S. Cockerham, "Along the Silk Road, troops find hope," in The [Tacoma] News Tribune (Washington), October 18, 2006
• S. Walsh, "War exposes history," in [Gary] Post-Tribune (Indiana), February 6, 2005, with a sidebar by F. Deblauwe

October 18, 2006


Quantifying the interest in IW&A issues again

In regards to my previous post, Dr. Dorothy King was so kind to let me know that the blog search web site Technorati also provides graphs showing the popularity of certain terms in blogs through time, and at the same time does a better job of filtering out spam-blog posts. I was aware of the site but not of the chart capability. Naturally, I felt compelled to give it a try too. Please humor me ;-)

The result again shows the attention the combination of the terms "Iraq" on the one hand and "archa(e)ological," "archa(e)ologist," "archa(e)ology" or "antiquities" on the other hand has received in the so-called blogosphere but this time for the last year, a longer period of time. What is more, Technorati provides a way to limit the posts searched to "blogs with any," "a little," "some" or "a lot of authority." I include the 4 different graphs.

The maximum hits in blogs with the most authority (i.e., most linked to) occurred mid-April 2006 (see 3rd and 4th graphs). This was when the damage to the site of Babylon became known publicly and did indeed cause quite a stir in the mainstream media. It would appear that the 1st graph especially ("blogs with any authority," i.e., all blogs) yields quite "noisy" results that are pretty much useless.

I checked the resulting posts for relevancy. Contrary to BlogPulse, I don't seem to be able to get a list of posts per date. So I looked at both sites' overall list which is organized in chronological sense (most recent first) and inspected the first 20 posts to allow for easy comparison:

• relevant posts: BlogPulse 7 vs. Technorati 11
• irrelevant posts: BlogPulse 13 vs. Technorati 8
• spam-blog posts: BlogPulse 0 vs. Technorati 1

This limited sample does seem to show Technorati as the slightly better choice at least for current blog posts. Funny how this time around, contrary to the test in the previous post, BlogPulse has no spam-blog posts at all! Maybe they've improved their filters? This overall search results list is taken from "blogs with any authority," right?

October 17, 2006


Quantifying the interest in IW&A issues

I often wonder to what extent IW&A issues register beyond the small circle of ancient-studies scholars and cultural-heritage professionals. Also, how could you quantify this, esp. through time? It's not easy. I've experimented time and again. I include an attempt here, using the online Trend tool of the BlogPulse (Nielsen BuzzMetrics) web site which tracks what blogs talk about.

The graph shows basically the attention the combination of the terms "Iraq" on the one hand and "archa(e)ological," "archa(e)ologist," "archa(e)ology" or "antiquities" on the other hand has received in the so-called blogosphere from March 20, 2006, till today. The maximum number of blog posts per day (32) was reached on June 2. However, upon close inspection of these results I found that they could be grouped as follows:

• relevant posts: 1
• irrelevant posts: 5
• spam-blog posts: 26

In other words, BlogPulse does a lousy job of filtering out spam blogs, i.e., blogs with no real content, just meaningless, random series of phrases and words, which are used only for promoting affiliated websites. "The purpose is to increase the PageRank of the affiliated sites, get ad impressions from visitors, and/or use the blog as a link outlet to get new sites indexed." So we can forget about this approach... even if some of the peaks in the graph actually do correspond to real increased attention due to certain events, e.g., Dr. Donny George's exile from Iraq (August 26).

I don't know right now of another public source to provide news data that can be easily tabulated concerning volume and date. Any suggestions? My IW&A web site could maybe substitute for the larger media environment. One could venture that traffic to IW&A waxed and waned in parallel with the general media interest in the subject matter.

This graph is based on daily numbers, first from the umkc.edu and then the univie.ac.at server. The archaeos.org mirror traffic data are left out. (Google was searched using this string: "iraq war and archaeology" OR "iraq war & archaeology" OR "fdeblauwe/iraq" OR "iwa.univie.ac.at" OR "iwa.univie.ac.at.") The moving-7-day averages are used to smooth out the trends and also to take care of the occasional missing data points, esp. in the case of the Google hits. A few events jump out that aren't relevant to our goal here: on April 15, 2005, the web site was pulled down by the University of Missouri only to restart on a University of Vienna server on April 26. This is expressed in a total loss of traffic followed by a higher-than-before level of interest in the site. For obvious reasons, there was an all-time peak of interest in the plight of IW&A issues in April 2003. I had to leave this off the graph in order to be able to show the evolution of the more pedestrian trends later. Some of those numbers:

• 04/18/03 2538
• 04/19/03 2580
• 04/20/03 2541
• 04/21/03 2410
• 04/22/03 2083

Some of the more abrupt changes in the Google hits trend may be due to changes in their search algorithm.

One more way to look at this: the size of the IW&A bimonthly archives of reviewed articles. One can easily spot the intense media attention in early 2003. Nice but I can't say this really helps much either. Oh well...