The Iraq War & Archaeology
Reviewed Articles Archive Zero: Through the Second 1/2 of March 2003

This is the pre-National-Museum-looting 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.

  • P. Menon, "A Past in Peril," in Frontline (India), March 29, 2003: "The damage caused to historical sites [in Iraq] in the 1991 bombing by American forces was incalculable ..." [likely an exaggeration]; "... the Baghdad National Museum of Antiquities, ... stands in the heart of Baghdad city, and the planned aerial assault will most certainly ensure its destruction." [a way too alarmist prediction which fortunately has been disproven by the events]; "Just before the 1991 Gulf war broke out, the Iraqi authorities transferred the most precious of the archaeological contents of the [National M]useum to a secret location. The ceramics, ivory pieces and cuneiform tablets were swathed in cotton and sponges for protection. The basements where these were stored were accidentally flooded and the humidity caused by the cotton wool and sponge wrapping caused the growth of fungus on the protected objects. The cuneiform tablets were irreparably damaged. Efforts at restoration have suffered because of the ban imposed on Iraq importing chemicals. No comprehensive independent assessment by any international team or agency of the damage caused to historical sites in the 1991 conflict has been made so far. The United Nations Security Council, led by the U.S. and Britain, blocked an Iraqi appeal for a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) commission to conduct such a survey ..." [true, all too true];

Photo 1: "Pictures: Hodalic Arne/Saola/Gamma.    An archaeological mission at work in Iraq. Despite the United Nations-imposed sanctions, a French mission carried out excavations at Sinjar, 600 km to the north of Baghdad, after May 2002."

Photo 2: "At the Baghdad National Museum, which has innumerable artefacts. The artefacts in the basement are in a sad state, laments Haddj Abed, who has worked at the museum for more than three and a half decades."

Photo 3: "Dusting Assyrian frescoes at the museum."

Photo 4: "A warlord of Hatra." [at the National Museum]

Photo 5: "Statues of a man and woman, prominent citizens of the city of Hatra." [at the Museum]

Photo: "IZD-027a"

  • A.M. Melilli, "Why the Italians want to be in Iraq. 'War will be catastrophic for the Iraqi people. But it will also be terrible for the country’s rich archaeological heritage,'" in The Art Newspaper (UK), [March 21, 2003]: "... a group of specialists from one of Italy’s top restoration centres, the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome, were due to travel to Mosul, in Iraq this month, but have cancelled because of the allied invasion. They were to  start restoration of the bas-reliefs in the ancient royal palace of Sennacherib."; interview with Giuseppe Proietti (Italy's director-general for archaeology and now sr. adviser to Piero Cordone, director of cultural affairs at ORHA) a few weeks before the invasion: "... to arrest the advanced state of decay of the bas-reliefs which adorn the lower part of the walls of the throne room, and of the grand reception rooms in the royal palace of Sennacherib in Nineveh." "... rain and direct sunlight have caused serious chemical and physical damage. The project also aims to train Iraqi technicians to do the restoration work themselves." "Meanwhile, we are progressing with the design for a new roof for the palace, a new drainage system and the transformation of the site into a museum." "... are going to try carbon fibre ties, 1-2 microns in diameter, which have one particularly useful characteristic: once they have been inserted they unravel and the joins cannot be seen." "The Centro Scavi e Ricerche archeologiche from Turin, directed by Giorgio Gullini, ... Last March they installed headquarters in Baghdad: the Italo/Iraqi Institute for Archaeological Science." "Last October our Iraqi colleagues asked us to collaborate with them on plans for a new National Museum of Iraq, which would be the archaeological museum of Mesopotamia and thus one of the most important museums in the world. We also hope to be able to carry on with the creation of a comprehensive database covering the whole country, with  the participation of Iraqi technicians, specially trained at the expense of our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This will be a computer archive of dates and images, illustrating all the works of art which were looted after the Gulf War; its aim will be to assist their retrieval." "The atmosphere is one of great cooperation, not only with our colleagues but also with the Iraqi people. It certainly did not feel as though we were working in a pre-conflict situation. Sanctions have not produced indiscriminate hatred of the West, only of the American government."

  • G. Ieranò, "L'incubo guerra nel regno degli assiri: Niniveh," in Panorama (Italy), March 17, 2003: good overview article on Italian archaeological research in Iraq (Hatra), cooperation regarding conservation (palace of Sennacherib in Nineveh; some alabaster orthostats are flaking badly) and possible effects of war.
Photo: "Le pareti del Palazzo reale di Sennacherib, ornata da figure di guerrieri con spada e lancia" [the wall reliefs of the Royal Palace of Sennacherib, adorned with figures of warriors with sword and spear]


Photo: "The head of this gateway colossal guardian figure has been sawed apart by looters. The figure, dated from 725 B.C., was located in the ancient Assyrian capital city Khorsabad, located just northeast of present-day Mosul, Iraq. Credit: Photos courtesy John M. Russell, Massachusetts College of Art"
  • Z. Bahrani, "Iraq Is a World Cultural Heritage Site, Says Bahrani," in Columbia News Video Forum: Accessing the 'Axis of Evil'; Middle East Asian Languages, Culture Offers Insight into the People, Culture, Heritage of Iraq, with online video, December 12, 2002: "'The entirety of Iraq is a world cultural heritage site and there is no way that a strategic bombing can avoid something archaeological,' says Zainab Bahrani, associate professor of art history and archaeology. She says Iraq is the 'cradle of civilization,' and is dotted with artifacts of the urban revolution of 4,000 B.C. as well as other cultural advances."; nice lecture, unfortunately without the slides

  • C. McWhirter, "Iraq's Precious Relics Decimated by Thieves. Ancient Sites Lie Vulnerable Since Gulf War," in The Detroit News, October 23, 2002: "Today, visitors walk up to one of the few remaining gates [of the site of Niniveh] to find a flimsy mesh fence, lashed together by a rag and an old wire for a bicycle lock. After a few minutes, a 12-year-old girl walks up and unties the lash to let visitors into one of the world's most important archaeological sites. The girl is the daughter of the site's guard, who went into town for the afternoon. Inside, statues lay exposed to the elements. A royal courtyard is a makeshift soccer field for children, with ancient bricks piled as goalposts. Famous Assyrian winged bulls, enormous stone statues with human heads, stand covered with chalk Arabic graffiti." "Since Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, thieves have been stealing anything they can -- estimated by experts to total tens of thousands of clay tablets, statuettes, pots, pieces of jewelry -- from open or poorly guarded sites throughout the country." "[Dr. McGuire] Gibson said he knows of examples of antiquities bureaucrats heading out to sites these days and catching 150 intruders with picks and shovels." "[Dr. Donny] George said his staff recently increased from postwar lows, but the department still only has about 35 people to cover all of Iraq, an area about the size of California. Before the war, the antiquities bureaucracy had about 250 employees. Pay for the remaining staff is low, opening the door for bribery. George, head of the department, only makes about $50 a month." "Shortly after the sanctions, most of the thefts occurred from museums in smaller cities, such as Mosul and Kirkuk. The material was documented, so proving it had been stolen was relatively easy. Now, thieves are excavating sites themselves. If they find material before the archeologists, chances of recovery are slim. Under international law, a nation has to prove that an item came from a specific place at a certain time." "Staff at the Metropolitan Museum in New York recently took custody of a copper statue found on a person trying to enter the country. The item was documented, so it was seized."

All photos: "Max Ortiz / The Detroit News"

Photo 1: "Sahel Mhoustefa stands near an ancient statue in Nineveh, one of the world's most important archaeological sites, which is unguarded. These vulnerable sites attract looters, who have stolen tens of thousands of relics."

Photo 2: "Nadia Mhoustefa lets visitors into unguarded Nineveh, once the capital of the mighty Assyrian Empire."

Photo 3: "Ten men were executed for stealing this stone head and chopping it into pieces to make it easier to smuggle."

Photo 4: "Stone tablets, such as this one depicting an ancient culture working to build a city, lay exposed to the elements."

Photo 5: "Unprotected Assyrian winged bulls -- enormous stone statues, many with human heads -- stand covered with graffiti."

Photo 6: "At the ancient city of Nineveh in Mosul in northern Iraq, a site in biblical history stands unguarded.  Many treasures in Iraq have been destroyed, taken by other countries, or sold on the open market."

Photo 7: "Tom Simaan, of the Iraqi American Friendship Federation / Metro Detroit, stands at the base of one of many ancient structures at biblical city of Ninevah."

  • "Damming the Past. Iraq: Ancient Mesopotamian City Threatened," in NOVA (PBS), online, September 2002: the huge, hardly excavated site of Assur, the ancient capital of Assyria: "Construction is currently underway on the Makhul Dam, ... The new lake will flood the ancient city, reducing priceless cuneiform tablets to mud and destroying other irreplaceable artifacts. Archeological teams from Iraq and elsewhere have until 2007, the dam's scheduled completion date. With the Iraqi government determined to go ahead with the dam project, which will provide desperately needed water to northern Iraq for agricultural purposes during the dry season, archeologists and conservationists have begun arguing for a costly barrier wall to be built around Assur." [there's talk now that this dam project may be shelved]
Photo: "A worker surveys excavation work in progress at Assur."

  • D. Gordon and T. Sproule, "King of Kings," in The Sunday Edition (CBC, Canada), with online audio, February 18, 2001: interesting exploration of how Saddam Hussein (ab)used ancient Mesopotamian concepts of royalty; quite a lot of excerpts of the reporter's chat with Donny George; a picture of a Saddam Hussein statue has this caption: "'This is why you see his portraits, because the people love him, they love him and they want him to stay strong as he is always, and I believe it was the same in the past, because the kings were symbols of power and sovereignty of the country.' ~ Dr. Donni George, Director-General, Iraq National Museum": this is not an accurate quote, still, George is basically saying in the interview that a people needs a leader as a symbol of their nation and that statues and other representations serve to symbolize the vitality and strength of the nation
Photo 1: "8-year-old inscription found on new bricks in the rebuilt walls of Babylon: 'In the time of the reign of the victorious Saddam Hussein, the Great President of the Republic, (may god save him), the protector of great Iraq and the renewer of its renaissance and the builder of it civilization, the third phase of reconstructing Babylon has been completed in 1989, as the reconstruction of this palace was achieved originally by King Nebucchanezer in 605 BC.'"

Photo 2: "2600-year-old inscription found at the foundation of Old Babylon: 'I, Nebuchanezzer, the great King of the Babylon. I rebuilt Throne Hall for my great god Marduk and my god Adit. Grant Me Immortality.'"

Photo 3: "In the 20 years since Saddam Hussein assumed power, much of the old city has been rebuilt. The brown brick battlements and the ramparts now stand smooth and tall, sharp-edged and clean; but its an empty place. There's no sense of the ages."

  • B. Plett, "Iraq Looks to Its Rich History," in BBC News, with online video, January 5, 2001: report on the reopening of the National Museum in Baghdad; after the 1991 Gulf War, "'[w]e tried all kinds of protection [for archaeological sites against looters], but the best idea was to go by ourselves, and be here to protect the sites with our own guards, with the workers working here,' says archaeologist Donny George." "... Donny George[:] 'The Iraq museum is now open, and the regional museums are opening up too.'" "Recent efforts though are restoring not only the sites but a sense of national pride, and have increased Iraq's determination to some day finish the job."
Photo 1: "Iraqi children are now able to see the country's ancient treasures" (Assyrian statue]

Photo 2: "The museum was closed for a over a decade to avoid theft" [Early Sumerian statues]

  • "Iraq reopens national museum. Closed since Gulf War," in CNN, May 11, 2000: "... giving the public the first view of Iraq's archaeological wealth since the [1991] Persian Gulf War. The museum reopened April 28 [2000], ... the Iraqis had kept the museum closed, because of the threat of more strikes from United States airplanes." "The museum had been infested with termites, and years of storage have damaged the artwork. Iraq hopes to get international restoration help. Some of the more spectacular pieces, treasures from the royal tombs in Ur and recent excavations from Nimrod, won't be on exhibit until summer." [these treasures from Ur and Nimrud were not put on display before the 2003 Iraq War]

Photo 1: "The 10,000 pieces on display at Iraq's national museum are less than 3 percent of the country's holdings"

Photo 2: "This Sumerian marble head is among the finest examples of ancient sculpture" [Lady of Warka]

Photo 3: "A fragment of elephant ivory used in royal furniture"

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).