The Iraq War & Archaeology
Reviewed Articles Archive Eleven: First 1/2 of September 2003

This is the eleventh 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.

  • "Looting Clampdown Urged. Plans to Crackdown on the Black Market in Stolen Cultural Treasures Have Been Backed by the House of Lords," in BBC (UK), September 12, 2003: "On Friday peers gave a second reading to the Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill, which is designed to close a loophole in the law in England and Wales. ... It will make knowingly dealing in 'tainted cultural objects' a criminal offence, carrying a penalty of up to seven years jail. ... The measure would not only tackle high-profile looting, as seen in Baghdad following the fall of Saddam Hussein in April, but also so-called 'nighthawks' who raid churches, stately homes and archaeological sites, often with metal detectors."

Photo: "Thousands of items were taken from the Baghdad museum"

Photo: "During a Pentagon briefing, Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos said so far during a four-month investigation, about 3,400 artifacts have been recovered and returned to the Iraqi people, but many items remain missing. He leads a 13-member team formed by U.S. Central Command to recover items missing or stolen from Iraqi museums. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel"

Photo: "Well, we managed to save [a] few" [file picture of Bogdanos from a press conference at the National Museum in Baghdad; not current]
  • M. Bogdanos, "Thousands of Missing Artifacts from Iraqi Museum Recovered. Chief U.S. Military Investigator Briefs on Recovery Efforts Sept 10," in Washington File, September 10, 2003: very important article; briefing slides are online; "... the museum has not only cataloged items, but items from excavation sites throughout the country that have not yet been cataloged. ... the museum's antiquated manual and incomplete inventory system prior to the war. ... after five months into the investigation, we still do not have a complete inventory of precisely what is missing. ... The inventory, of course, is being completed on a daily basis, with the help of American, British and Italian archeologists and museum specialists." "... the dissemination of photographs of the missing items.  That, too, has proven problematic, largely because many of the items simply didn't have photographs, or if they were photographs, they were of poor quality; or, if they were photographs, they were frequently destroyed during the looting.  We have, however, disseminated photographs to the international law enforcement and art communities, and where a photograph did not exist, we provided photographs of virtually identical or similar items." "The raids on targeted locations in Iraq based on information given to us by Iraqis have resulted in the recovery of over 900 separate artifacts." "Seizures at checkpoints, airports and international border crossings have proven equally successful, largely as a result of the dissemination of the photographs of the items.  So far, over 750 artifacts have been recovered in four different countries." [Bailey September 5 thinks seizures took place in New York (2x) and Rome]; "Years before Iraqi [F]reedom, most of the gold and jewelry that was kept at the museum was removed to the Central Bank of Iraq.  It was moved in 21 separate boxes.  Sixteen of those boxes contained the royal family collection of gold and jewelry, approximately 6,744 pieces [presumably not antiquities?!], placed in one of the underground vaults of the central bank.  A second set of five boxes contained the fabled Treasure of Nimrud and the original golden bull's head from the Golden Harp of Ur." "Months before the war, the staff moved all of the manuscripts from the museum in 337 boxes, totalling 39,453 manuscripts, parchment, vellum and the like. They moved it to a bomb shelter in western Baghdad." [again, this is the Saddam House of Manuscripts collection that had its own building elsewhere in Baghdad and wasn't a part of the National Museum collection]; "Weeks before the war, the staff moved 179 boxes containing 8,366 of the more priceless artifacts from the display cases in the museum itself.  They moved those items to a secret place, ... we found that all 179 boxes were present and all of their contents accounted for.  Those items have been returned to that secret place and will be placed on display in the museum once the security is sufficient."

"But again I stress, numbers simply cannot tell the whole story, nor should they be the sole determinant used to assess the extent of the damage or of the recovery itself. For example, it is simply impossible to quantify the loss of the world's first known Samarian [sic] mask of a female deity.  That's one number; you cannot possibly quantify it, and it is irreplaceable.  On the other hand, a single clay pot recovered at an archeological site in 25 separate pieces, depending on the circumstances under which it is recovered, counts as 25 separate pieces -- each bead, each pin, each amulet, each pendant counts as a separate piece." "... the [Warka V]ase was returned on 11 June, pursuant to the amnesty program.  It was in exactly the same condition it was when it was found by German archeologists at Al Samawa in 1940.  In other words, there's no additional damage, ..." [that's good to hear, I hope he's right]; "Unfortunately, 30 exhibits from the main gallery, ... are still missing from the museum. Another 16 pieces were damaged, most notably, the Golden Harp of Ur, although its golden bull's head, as I mentioned, had previously been removed.  And you can see the harp on the left there in three pieces, and then you can see the golden bull's head.  That photograph was taken when we uncovered the Treasure of Nimrud in the underground vaults of the Central Bank of Iraq.  The Golden Harp itself can also be restored. In turning to the Heritage Room, consisting of more recent scrolls and Islamic antique furniture and fine porcelain, 236 pieces were originally stolen. We've recovered 164, which leaves 72 still missing. Turning then to the restoration and registration rooms, which were temporary storage areas ... we found 199 pieces originally missing, of which we've recovered 118, leaving 81 still missing.  It was in this room that the Golden Harp of Ur and several delicate ivories were kept and subsequently damaged during the looting."

"... eight storage rooms.  Of the eight, only five were entered, and only three had anything missing.  Because these rooms contain tens of thousands of clay pots, pottery shards, copper and bronze weapons, tools, statuettes and pieces, ... the inventory is simply not complete.  It contains items both from museum-sponsored excavations as well as from internationally sponsored excavations. The inventory in these rooms will take months to complete." "The first- and second-level storage rooms were looted but show no signs of entry on their -- forced -- on their shared exterior doors. ... 2,703 excavation site pieces -- jars, vessels, pottery shards, statuettes and the like -- were stolen, of which 2,449 have been recovered, and ... 254 remain missing."; "... the investigation has uncovered no evidence that any fighters entered the museum before the staff left on the 8th of April and no evidence that any member of the staff assisted Iraqi forces in entering the museum or in building the various fighting positions found inside and surrounding the museum."

"Turning to the basement-level storage room, ... the evidence here suggests thieves with an intimate knowledge of the museum and its storage procedures.  ... they attempted to steal the most traffickable and easily transportable items stored in the most remote corner of the most remote room in the basement of the museum.  The front door of this basement room was intact and unforced, but its bricked rear doorway, accessed only through a remote, narrow and hidden stairwell, was broken and entered. ... the fourth room was also virtually untouched, except for one remote corner where 103 small plastic boxes originally containing cylinder seals, loose beads, amulets, small glass bottles and jewelry had been emptied, while hundreds and hundreds of surrounding larger, but empty, cardboard boxes ... as you see there, were completely untouched. The thieves here had keys that had previously been hidden elsewhere in the museum, not the keys that were in the museum director's safe; a separate set of keys that was established by the museum as a safety procedure to have a second set of keys for these cabinets.  They were hidden elsewhere in the museum.  That hiding place was known to only several people in the museum. ... All together from those boxes, there were 4,997 bins, beads, amulets and pendants, and 4,795 cylinder seals.  An additional 500 smaller pottery pieces and bronze weapons from the shelves were also taken. So, from this room alone, 10,337 pieces were stolen, of which, 667 have been recovered. It is from this room we also recovered a set of readable fingerprints."; the fingerprints did not match any in the FBI databases (incl. US military) nor the ones taken from the National Museum staff "who had immediate access to that storage room"

"... the storage rooms on the first and second floors.  The pattern here was indiscriminate and random.  Entire shelves were emptied, while adjacent shelves were untouched.  Entire shelves that had priceless antiquities were untouched, while an adjacent shelf that had nothing but fakes were taken and emptied.  We found entire shelves or partial shelves with arm sweeps through the dust on the shelf, as if they were sweeping the items into a bag, and then we would find that very bag at the end of the storage room, and the shelf next to that bag emptied, as if they had seen something they liked better. ... virtually all of the items returned under the amnesty program come from these rooms, come from neighborhood residents." "The higher value, more recognizable exhibits, ... demand a different approach.  Because they have a far more limited market, one of the primary ways to recover these items would be through identifying and monitoring the buyers, and by continuing to develop confidential sources within the art smuggling community, just like we would in the drug smuggling community, in order to track, recover and return these pieces.  Thorough border inspections and searches also play a crucial role in interdicting these higher value items." "Indeed, I must commend the efforts of the staff of the British Museum and Professors Al-Radi[,] Bahrani, from New York; Henry Wright, from Michigan; and McGuire Gibson, from Chicago. ... Very simply, we get paid to be shot at.  They do not, but they went [to Iraq] nonetheless, and they should be commended."

"On a recent trip home on leave in Manhattan, I was contacted by an individual who had learned of the investigation, ... and told me he had something to turn over.  ... a 4,000-year-old Akhadian [sic] tablet is now in the hands of the Iraqi museum, where it belongs." "The remaining 1,679 items have been recovered as the result of sound law enforcement techniques, from raids in Baghdad, to random car stops at checkpoints throughout Iraq, to increased vigilance at international borders. ... Altogether, 911 pieces have been recovered in Iraq, while another 768 have come from numerous seizures in Jordan, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S." "In total, the number of artifacts now known to be missing from the museum stands at slightly over 10,000.  As it has for over the last five months, this number will change on a daily basis.  What is accurate today will not be accurate tomorrow.  More items will be found.  The inventory will be completed, and more items will be found to be missing or will be found in other parts of the museum.  So I stress, the numbers will always change." "The evidentiary findings will be turned over to Iraqi authorities for criminal prosecution if they deem it appropriate. Justice is also about process, and the team's other goal was to cut through the unproductive rhetoric that surrounded this in the beginning and bring objective truth to the story of the museum's looting. ... tracking down the missing pieces ... will likely take years."

"... when does the museum feel that the security situation will be such that they can be reopened to the public? ... I suspect it will be next year before you see anything." "... was there any awareness in Central Command during the invasion or before it to make attempts to preserve these kinds of artifacts? ... Iraqi forces chose to violate international law by fighting from otherwise protected cultural sites, ... the looting in these storage rooms by local residents, which was [not predictable] ..." [I respectfully disagree: in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, the provincial museums were looted too]; "You said that you had a fingerprint; you have access to all the museum staff.  Yet it doesn't sound like you're very close to finding that suspect[?] ... not all the museum staff.  Many of the former museum staff are simply gone, and we've not been able to find them, ... Could you give me a sense of the numbers there? You're assuming a record-keeping system that simply doesn't exist.  Also, many of the people are volunteers.  Also, many of the people are from the international community.  It is a daunting, Herculean task to even -- as a prosecutor, the first thing I'm going to want is, you give me a list of everyone who had access to this particular room.  I suspect at the Met or at the British Museum you could get that list.  In the Iraqi Museum, you can't get that list."

"Sometimes using money and entering money into the bargaining or negotiation process is insulting.  We found that particularly true in Iraq. Frequently when I say 'amnesty program,' don't think of someone walking up to the gate and saying, 'Here, I have a bag.' That did happen, but that's not the standard paradigm.  The standard paradigm is someone walking up to the gate, coming in and saying, 'If I know a friend who knows a friend who might have a piece, what would happen?' 'Well, why don't we meet the friend?  Let's have some tea.  Let's talk about it.' So there's a negotiation, and sometimes those meetings would take three or four meetings before you finally got the item.  Warka -- the sacred vase of Warka came in like that.  It was not on the first meeting; it was, in fact, the third. [only the 2nd time that it is acknowledged that the Warka Vase didn't just get dropped off] But when I say 'negotiation,' don't think I mean money.  Money is rarely used -- at least in our experience in this investigation in and around Baghdad, money was not the issue.  It was a sense of pride, the sense of culture, the assurance that these items would be kept safe and would not be returned to the Ba'ath Party or the former regime." "Are these items showing up on the international black market already? What I can't do -- and I'm sorry this is not an answer that's going to satisfy you -- what I can't do is go into the details of the investigations, but I can tell you that there are active, ongoing investigations in at least four countries."

"You had mentioned items had been seized in four countries outside of Iraq.  Are those four countries that you mentioned, the four, Jordan, Italy, the U.K., and the United States, is that the four? Yes. So that's a separate four from the four that you're now talking about[?] I can't -- I'm sorry.  I can't answer.  I won't -- I can't comment on that." "But this is -- this is your findings for the final report[?] This is the findings.  I don't like the word 'final report' simply because it indicates that the investigation is over; it is clearly not.  It is -- this phase of the investigation is over.  But there is still so much more to be done.  So don't falsely -- and don't stop reporting on this, because they need you.  They need your help."

[on the National Museum grounds]

[this Saddam House of Manuscripts collection was not a part of the National Museum]

[left: Warka Vase on the green cloth]

[right: oil lamps]

  • "Baghdad’s Treasures Rescued," in Arab News (Saudi Arabia), September 4, 2003: "Nimrud, 250 kilometers south [sic] of Baghdad, ... security staff had to be especially vigilant around the ancient tunnels, Ibrahim Atta, in charge of security there, told Al Majalla, a sister publication of Arab News. Thieves were using the tunnels to gain entrance to the city and its museum." "Muzahem Mahmoud has been the supervisor of the site since 1985 ..." "These priceless artifacts are now at last on show at the National Museum, which has become a virtual armed fortress." [not true, the treasure of Nimrud is back in the Central Bank]

Photo: [no caption; recent one-day exhibition of the treasures of Nimrud at the National Museum in Baghdad]

  • A. the, "Babylon. Photos 08 Babylon," in Travel Tips Newsletter And Updates on Around The World Trip, online, 122 (September 2, 2003): direct-to-internet blog of a low-budget world traveler showed many photos of 2003 Iraq

Photo 1: [no caption; Babylon; existing parking lot near reconstructed remains of a theater or area newly leveled by Coalition military? see among others Bahrani August 31, 2004]

Photo 2: [no caption; Babylon; trailer park in same area newly leveled by Coalition military? see among others Montagne June 24, 2004]

Photo 3: [no caption; Babylon; sign reads: "No selling or baying <sic> of any artifact<.>  They are all fak <sic><.>  Any one doing so will be kicked out of the bazzar <sic><.>"]

Photo 4: [no caption; Babylon]

  • A. the, "Baghdad. Photos 07 Baghdad," in Travel Tips Newsletter And Updates on Around The World Trip, online, 122 (September 2, 2003): direct-to-internet blog of a low-budget world traveler showed many photos of 2003 Iraq

Photo 1: "Babylon" [reconstruction]

Photo 2: [no caption; dais in throne room, Babylon; reconstructed]

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).