The Iraq War & Archaeology
Reviewed Articles Archive Four: Second 1/2 of May 2003

This is the fourth 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.

  • "Lost Iraq Treasures: Rare Geographic Photos," in National Geographic News, May 30, 2003: "In 1989 photographer Lynn Abercrombie ... went to Iraq to do a story on that country. While in Baghdad, Lynn made dozens of photographs of the exquisite antiquities housed in the Iraq Museum. Ultimately, National Geographic 's editor held the story, awaiting more coverage, and it was never published in the magazine. Lynn Abercrombie still lives in the Washington area and recalled her experience in the museum some 14 years ago ..." "While we were waiting for permission to move out of Baghdad to other areas, we decided to explore the Iraq Museum—and took the opportunity to make photographs of as many of the artifacts there as possible. The museum was closed at the time—it was just preparing to reopen after the Iraq-Iran war." "... the woman who ran [the Iraq Museum] was so sweet, and she made some suggestions and unlocked the cases for us. It's a very light, open space. We shot the unique pieces that could be easily removed."; with two high-quality photo galleries of her pictures: "Treasures of Iraq, Part One" and "Part Two"

Photo above: "Marble building model with four square columns and four statuettes of female deities, from Hatra, second to third century A.D. The status of this object is unknown. Photograph by Lynn Abercrombie"

Photo left: "Clay impression of a Mesopotamian cylinder seal from circa 2600-2300 B.C.  Photograph by Lynn Abercrombie"
  • M. Gilbert, "An Untended Treasure," in The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington), May 28, 2003: "Modern Mosul is built around and, in some cases, on top of the ruins of Nineveh, third capital of the Assyrian Empire. Lt. Col. Fred Hoadley, chaplain to 62nd Medical Brigade soldiers stationed here, spent two days surveying the site before leading a tour Tuesday. He said he wanted to plan the trip carefully to avoid offending Iraqis." "Nineveh in Mosul today is largely an untended treasure, suffering from years of neglect, haphazard excavation and periodic looting and vandalism." "Hoadley said his research and talks with Iraqis around the site suggest there's been little recent looting, except for one marble panel that appears to have been toppled and the pieces stolen. 'But it's been looted so much over the last 10 years, it doesn't make much difference,' he said." "Beginning in the 1950s, the Iraqi antiquities ministry restored some of the walls and two gates. Some sections of the Sennacherib palace were placed in an open-air museum atop Koyunjuk hill. Today the site is in complete disrepair, having been looted after the first gulf war. Corrugated metal roofing sheets are all gone, exposing what's left of the sculpted stone wall sections to the elements. Some sections appear to have been broken up and pieces removed." "Today, Muslims in Mosul believe the prophet's bones are buried inside the Nabi Younis [or Jonah's Mosque]. To avoid possible conflicts with anyone at the mosque, Hoadley scheduled Tuesday's tour first thing in the morning and stopped only briefly at the gates for pictures. Commanders have banned U.S. forces from entering any mosques in Iraq, anyway."

Photo: "PETER HALEY | THE NEWS TRIBUNE - Sgt. 1st Class Christine Gallagher of the 98th Combat Stress Control Company from Fort Lewis looks toward Mosul from a gate in Nineveh's western wall Tuesday"
  • E.L. Andrews, "Iraqi Officials Say Looting of Ancient Sites Continues Despite Pleas to U.S. Troops for Help," in The New York Times, May 26, 2003: "On a visit Sunday, three sites near [Samawa] were pocked with freshly dug holes and littered with hastily abandoned shovels, indicating looting in the last day or two. At one spot, about two dozen people ran off when they saw approaching trucks." "'It's happening at almost every site," said Tofiq Abed Muhammad, director of antiquities for the province of Samawa." "Archaeologists say the sites have been so disrupted that systematic historical research there may now be impossible. Mr. Muhammad said his first request for help was to Lt. Col. Daniel O'Donahue, the commanding officer at a Marine base just outside Samawa. 'We told them we needed American soldiers at checkpoints, in combination with Iraqi guards,' he said. Colonel O'Donohue ... said marines were attending to more basic needs like securing enough water, food and medical care for people in the area. 'We don't have anywhere near enough marines to police every fixed site in the country,' he said. 'Our view is that if it's a fixed site, it's primarily an Iraqi responsibility.'" [now who exactly is supposed to police all these sites then? the pathetic remnants of the Ba'ath-era police force? the about-to-be-disbanded Iraqi army? Shi'ite militias that should have disarmed?]; "'It comes down to what the priorities are,' said Lt. Col. Richard S. Long, a spokesman for the First Marine Division. 'You have to put the securing of those archaeological sites within the mosaic of ensuring food, water, electricity, sewage and other types of basic needs.'" [I actually don't totally disagree with this; however, it all comes down to lack of planning for predictable post-war problems]; "Looters were discovered at work on Thursday at the ruins of Isin, ... On Sunday afternoon, the First Marine Division sent a patrol unit to investigate. The troops saw evidence of looting at the site, but no looters. But today, residents of the nearby town of Afak said the diggers had resumed activity ..." "Colonel O'Donahue said the marines were ready to arm, train and even pay Iraqis to guard the sites. But Iraqis involved with the archaeological sites say they have heard no such offer. One of their biggest worries is a new edict by the American civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, that prohibits most Iraqis from carrying guns outside their homes. Iraqis fear that the edict will prohibit the Bedouin watchmen who have long guarded the sites from carrying their beloved Kalashnikovs." "But arming the existing guards may not be the full solution. Experts and local Iraqis say many guards had themselves become collaborators and even organizers of the looters. The problem reflects the broader absence of law, and law enforcement, that gave rise to looting of all types. Iraq has virtually no courts and only a fledgling police force, which means that power often resides with those who control the most weapons." "'As we get information about sites where looting is occurring, we are sending out patrols to investigate the sites — as possible,' [col. Long] said. 'I emphasize the words 'as possible.''"
[hyperlinked photo removed at the request of World Picture News

Photo: "Matt Moyer/ World Picture News, for The New York Times  -  An armed guard for an investigating team walked past holes that had been dug by looters at an archae[o]logical site near Samawa, Iraq."
  • E.L. Andrews, "Global Network Aids Theft of Iraqi Artifacts," in The New York Times, May 26, 2003: "The meeting took place as planned, in a battered van on the side of the highway." "Opening a cigarette pack, he extracted a wad of cotton and then unwrapped a small polished stone cylinder engraved with the icons of ancient Mesopotamia: Ishtar, the warrior goddess; Adad, god of weather, and Ea, the god of water." "... a tiny bronze statue, less than two inches tall, of a person hunched over in prayer." "Some pieces, like the black cylinder, were potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everything was on sale now, at prices of $1,500 and up. 'These are just a sample of what I have,' said Khalil, ... 'I have more than a thousand tablets. I have big statues made of stone. Just tell me what you want, and I can show it to you. We need to make another appointment.' Khalil is one of the middle links in a global network of plundering that is rapidly depleting the immense reserves of ancient art and historical data that lie buried in cities that once made up the Babylonian and Sumerian empires. The looting has been under way on a smaller scale for years, but it has exploded into an orgy of theft in the weeks since American forces toppled the government of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi police force, which disintegrated at the end of the war, is not only powerless but afraid to stop the heavily armed groups that now prowl over dozens of sites." "Khalil is one of many local dealers who buy looted treasures and resell them to foreign buyers. ... the prices demanded by Khalil are a fraction of what those objects can fetch in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Europe and the United States." "'The networks go from Iraq to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, or, if you have very good connections, through Jordan,' said Joanne Farchakh, an archaeologist and journalist who is based in Beirut and has studied the looting of Iraqi sites for much of the past decade." "But contrary to initial reports in the news media, much of the art stolen from museums was relatively obscure and quickly abandoned by the thieves. As of last week, American and Iraqi investigators had recovered more than 900 pieces. The looting of archaeological sites, if unchecked, could prove far more devastating. [that is very true no matter what] At least a dozen major sites are believed to be under siege, with looters in some locations extracting more in two weeks than archaeologists had unearthed in two decades." "Khalil conceded that Jordan and other neighboring countries had begun stringent border searches for anything that might be construed as looted goods from Iraq. But that, he insisted, was no problem. 'We can take the goods to either Syria or Jordan ourselves, and you can pick them up there,' he said." "Full-sized urns, some packed with cuneiform tablets, are being dug up daily at sites like Isin and Chokha, a site to the south of Afak that Khalil said was his primary source of merchandise."
Photo 1: "Matt Moyer/World Picture News, for The New York Times - Khalil, who would not give his last name, recently displayed artifacts looted from Iraqi archaeological sites. Some pieces could be  worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Khalil said he had many large items as well."

Figure 2: "The New York Times  -  Afak, near archaeological sites, buzzes with looters and traders."
[hyperlinked photo removed at the request of World Picture News]

  • Photo: "Sat May 24, 5:36 PM ET          A statue is left in a room after a mob of looters ransacked and looted Iraq ( news -web sites )'s largest archaeological museum in Baghdad.(AFP/File/Ramzi Haidar)" [Yahoo News Photos]

  • "Who's to Blame? A Move Is Afoot to Blacken the Museum's Name. This May Not Be Just," in The Economist (UK), May 22, 2003: "'As soon as there's a government that decides that others should do this job, they're welcome,' says Donny George, ... He thus acknowledged his own vulnerability to the de-Baathifying zeal of Pietro Cordone, the Italian diplomat whom the Americans recently put in charge of Iraqi culture. Visiting foreign archaeologists expect top people from the board of antiquities, Mr George included, to be pushed out. But they are suspicious about the reason: 'The Americans are covering their ass,' suggested one." "Now some American officials are insinuating that the museum staff handed the premises over to Iraqi troops, who used them as a defensive position." "... Bogdanos said that the area around the museum was secured by a tank platoon only after 'fierce fighting'. Not fierce enough, it would seem, to deter the dozens of journalists who greeted the tanks as they hove into view. Mr Bogdanos claims to seek the lost treasures, not scalps. But his insinuation that keys to important rooms in the museum were removed from a director's safe seems designed to suggest an inside job." "[George] maintains that the safe was opened by a safebreaker, whose keys were found on the premises. For the foreign archaeologists who now throng the museum, the idea that their colleagues could have colluded in its desecration is too appalling to contemplate. They tend to take a relaxed view of the Baathist credentials of Mr George and the head of the antiquities board, Jabir Khalil Ibrahim; no one in a senior position, they say, was unqualified." "On American insistence, the remit of a UNESCO mission to the country has been severely curtailed. The mission is confined to Baghdad and its environs, so delegates have not been able to see more distant archaeological sites that, local officials report, have been severely looted by armed gangs. And Mr Cordone has declined to allow journalists to accompany him on a helicopter trip he plans to make to some of these plundered sites."

Photo: "Donny George (right) and returned beauty"
  • A. Spillius, "Media Blamed for Exaggerating Loss of Antiquities," in The Daily Telegraph (UK), May 22, 2003: "Officials at the National Museum of Iraq have blamed shoddy reporting amid the 'fog of war' ... A carefully prepared storage plan, used in the Iran-Iraq war and the first Gulf war, ensured that tens of thousands of pieces were saved, they said. They now believe that the number of items taken was in the low thousands, and possibly hundreds." "Donny George, research director, said: 'There was a mistake. Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone." [I'm sorry, but this explanation is too sudden and too simplistic; furthermore, 170,000 refers to inventory numbers while the number of artifacts is about three times as large]; "Shortly after the looting [museum officials] were in a highly defensive mood and gave away little about what appeared to be - and probably still is - one of the biggest art thefts ever." "American investigators from the immigration and customs enforcement department also did little to dispel the notion that the theft had been on a much larger scale." "... McGuire Gibson, ... a member of the Unesco team that first said the losses might have been wildly exaggerated, said he had received reports that 'top five' items out of the 33 had shifted to Teheran and Paris within days of their removal from the museum."

Photo: "Cpt John Durkin <centre> looks at recovered antiquities, with staff from the Iraqi National Museum"

  • E.L. Andrews, "Iraqi Looters Tearing Up Archaeological Sites," in The New York Times, May 22, 2003: "Here at the site of what was once Isin, a city-state that first arose around 1,900 B.C., ... 'In two weeks, they have ruined all the work that was done over 15 years,' said Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist who worked with a German team that excavated at Isin from the mid-1970's until 1989. On Wednesday morning alone, diggers unearthed two large and intact urns, a delicate vase, the leg to a statue of what might have been a bull or a calf and countless small engraved artifacts. On the outskirts of the site, people furtively offered to sell sculptures and ancient cuneiform tablets. A man in his 40's displayed what resembled a large oval ornament that was entirely covered in lines of cuneiform writing." "Army and Marine units occupy several bases within 30 miles of here, but so far they have done little to stop the treasure hunters who first began swarming around here two weeks ago. Residents in the nearby village of Afak said today that an Army helicopter had landed at Isin on Wednesday afternoon and shooed off looters with warning shots in the air." "... looting such as that underway in Isan Bakhriat all but destroys the ability of researchers to assemble a mosaic of meaning from the shards of old art and sun-dried bricks. Where archaeological teams spend years and even decades cataloging sites, excavating with small knives and brushes, the looters have been overturning tons of dirt daily." "Despite the allure of easy money, some villagers have been shocked by the looting at sites where they themselves worked for years and learned the painstaking methods of mapping a site inch by inch."
All photos: "Matt Moyer/World Picture News, for The New York Times"

Photo 1: "A looter carried off an urn pilfered on Wednesday from an archaeological site near the Babylonian city of Isin.  About 150 young men armed with shovels, knives and sometimes semiautomatic weapons have been digging from dawn to dusk and extracting ancient relics almost hourly."

Photo 2: "Scores of armed men show up daily at ancient Babylonian and Sumerian sites to unearth urns, bones and artifacts they sell for thousands of dollars."

Photo 3: "Iraqis are turning the looting of archaeological digs into treasure hunts.  Beyond the loss of potentially priceless artifacts, archaeologists say, looting all but destroys the ability of researchers to assemble meaning from the shards of old art and sun-dried bricks."

Photo 4: "A looter takes a break from digging at the Ishan Bakhriat archeological site in Southern Iraq.  Looting is another result of the lawlessness that continues to plague Iraq six weeks after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government."

Photo 5: "A looter looks at an ancient urn that he found at the Ishan Bakhriat archeological site.  The present looting is reminiscent of widespread episodes of plundering at Iraq's thousands of archaeological sites that continued after the 1991 Persian Gulf war."

Photo 6: "An Iraqi guard, Muhar Rumayim Tobi, walked with his son, Yasir, atop an archaeological site at Erech. He has tried to keep looters away from the dig at the ancient Mesopotamian city, but is fighting a lonely battle."

Photo 7: "A sculpture of a face looted from the Ishan Bakhriat archeological site.  Iraq, which occupies what was ancient Mesopotamia, has more than 10,000 registered archaeological sites."
[hyperlinked photo removed at the request of World Picture News

[hyperlinked photo removed at the request of World Picture News

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Photo: "U.S. Special Forces officers guard antiquities, including a red 8,000-year old Iraqi clay pot from before the wheel was invented. By Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP"

Photo: "Dr. Donny George, research director of Iraq's ministry of antiquities, holds a cuneiform tablet from Babylon and a Sumerian statue carved around 2,700 B.C.  (The Associated Press)"

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).