The Iraq War & Archaeology
Reviewed Articles Archive Fifty-Eight: Second 1/2 of August 2005

This is the fifty-eighth 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.

  • "Les secrets de Babylone," in Le Télégramme (France), August 28, 2005: review of "Uruad. Par Jean-Christophe Issartier, éditions Le Félin, 19,90 €."; theological/archaeological thriller set at the time of the invasion of Iraq in early 2003; did the US go to war to protect a secret that could change the world? Iraqi archaeologists excavating the Sumerian site of Aruad [fictitious] had found something special; invading US military proceeds to systematically destroy museums, ancient sites and remains, Iraqi archaeologists disappear, Uruad is bombed; a US officer ruthlessly kills anyone approaching certain burials; the hero is William Fisher, an English Sumerologist... [see also Weber September 29, 2005]

    Photo: [no caption]

  • [C. Hamann], "Third-generation Iraqi looks after Abraham's birthplace," in Yahoo! News, online, August 20, 2005: "[Dhia] Mhesen, 46, is the third generation caretaker at Ur, a 4,000 year-old city located near Nasiriyah, 375 kilometers (235 miles) southeast of the Iraqi capital. ... The most imposing building at Ur is the ziggurat, a stepped mudbrick temple with sloping stairways that towers over the flat desert floor." "Since the ousting of Saddam Hussein, the eight square kilometer (three square-mile) site has fallen within a restricted area near a US military airport. Speaking surprisingly good English, which he said he had learned from the dictionary, Mhesen recounts how his grandfather excavated the site in 1922 with British archaeologist Sir Leonard Wooley. Then Mhesen's father took over as Ur caretaker from his grandfather in 1961, and he took the job in 1991. He has lived all his life at Ur. Built around 2100 BC, the ziggurat is believed to have been 26 meters ... high during its heyday. But since the top structure was knocked down, today it stands at 17 meters, with a base 62 by 43 meters, Mhesen said. The walls gradually slope upward, with a top level measuring 20 by 11 meters." "During the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Saddam ordered that four of his prized fighter jets from the nearby air base be placed next to the ziggurat to shield them from destruction by US warplanes. When Mhesen's father protested, soldiers threatened to kill him if he told anyone, Mhesen said. The planes were spared, but the air base was largely abandoned when a no-fly zone was established across southern Iraq at the end of the war."

    Photo: "AFP/HO-US Army -  Sat Aug 20, 6:01 PM ET -  A stepped mud brick ziggurat temple of the moon god is seen in Ur in this US Army photo. Ur is the reputed birthplace of Abraham. (AFP/HO-US Army)"
  • F. Deblauwe, "Attending RAI 51. Observations on the 51e Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale in Chicago, July 17-23, 2005" (IW&A Documents, 4), in The Iraq War & Archaeology (Austria), online, August 5, 2005, updated August 20, 2005: "Monday July 18 ... Robert McC. Adams ... drew attention to the horrible situation in Iraq and expressed his opinion that the pending civil war (which may even have started already) can probably only be avoided by a US withdrawal." "[MacGuire Gibson] showed many photos of the looting of the archaeological sites of Iraq.  The photos of the Ur III temple palace in Umma from 2001 (before) and 2003 (after), for example, spoke eloquently of the huge damage.  Nippur looted for 2 months in the summer of 2003 but now safe.  Abu Salabikh safe as far as 6 months ago.  Finally, Robert McC. Adams made some concluding remarks.  Perhaps the destruction of the big, important sites may force us to pay more systematic attention to the many smaller sites out there which after all were an important aspect of ancient society too.  Better availability of satellite photography may be of great use here. ... The big discussion on how to deal with looted artifacts, how to prevent, curtail looting, etc. started.  No easy solutions, I'm afraid." "Over Wednesday [July 20] breakfast, Michael Müller-Karpe briefed me on his October 2004 trip to Baghdad." "The general meeting of the International Association for Assyriology (IAA) took place today in the late afternoon. ... A discussion was then started about the last point on the agenda: 'Policy on unprovenanced inscriptions.'  Let's just say there was no perfect agreement.  MacGuire Gibson: it all started when 5,000 artifacts were stolen from museums in Iraq after the 1991 War, of which only 45 were recovered.  He met a Ms. Osthoff two weeks ago in Amman: she said looting has now reached the Diyala region. Irene Winter: the AIA has already instituted programs to educate military personnel on Mesopotamian antiquities at their deployment centres in Georgia, etc." [9-20-05: see now Archaeological Institute of America September 19, 2005]; "There are two purist positions on the issue: one that says no to any dealings with looted artifacts of any type as that only encourages more looting, and one that says that looted cuneiform tablets contain precious textual information and should therefore be studied anyway.  A committee will be formed to formulate a policy by the next RAI.  I personally am disappointed: this is the year 2005, more than 2 years after the start of the Iraq War and we as a scholarly organization still haven't figured out a sensible policy in this matter we can all more or less agree with?  Sad!"

    I'd like to quote an idea I expressed even if it's not directly related to the plight of Iraqi archaeology: "During lunch [on Thursday July 21], I chatted with Frauke Weiershäuser about the evolving standards of academic publishing in our field. Digital formats are gaining ground but the problem of what counts for academic promotion and the like remains unsolved.  Still, funding of the institutes and researchers doing the publishing as well as the academic libraries doing the purchasing is only decreasing.  I feel that the established academic series, esp. the ones published by university departments, should be edited and prepared for print with the same quality standards as usual but then, just before the usual step of sending a manuscript to a printer, it should instead be converted into a high-quality pdf file.  This then should be placed on the web to be downloaded for free by anyone interested so as to encourage research in our small field.  Academic libraries could download it, print it out and bind it into a book to place in the stacks. If there are fine photographs or plans, they should have it printed out by their university copying/printing service on a high-quality printer.  This approach would save the money for a limited and expensive print run which is almost always totally subsidized anyway.  Any academic library could also acquire a lot more of the literature without having to make the painful choices that are all too common today.  And because it would go through the same process as before, it would still count fully for academic achievement." [comments, anyone?]

    "Saturday July 23, 10:45 am ... And then the big day arrived: ... the Workshop 'The Threat to Iraq's Cultural Heritage - Current Status and Future Prospects.'  After an introduction by organizer Clemens Reichel, MacGuire Gibson [spoke:] ... Basetki statue has lost another toe while it was stolen.  Ur harp was taken apart by looters to try get the gold out of it.  ...  Every little tell around Nippur has been badly damaged by looting, according to information from a Spanish army officer.  The next paper was 'Legal or Illegal - Can We Afford a Market for (Un-)Excavated Objects?' by Michael Müller-Karpe.  He explained the proposed German legislation that would finally enact the UNESCO convention of 1970; it has so many loopholes that it would not be good at all, it would also not abide by the UNESCO convention of 1995.  A major defect is that protection is limited to a finite number of important artifacts explicitly listed by a country, ignoring for instance all archaeological objects looted from sites. ... MacGuire Gibson then read Joanne Farchakh-Bajjali's (who was unable to come) richly-illustrated paper 'Cultural Heritage Condemned to Destruction--the Looting of Archaeological Sites in Southern Mesopotamia.'  It was actually retitled 'Heritage on Death Row' by Farchakh.  Looters dig trenches and then dig tunnels to stay out of the sun.  Parthian site of Farwa also extensively looted.  Smugglers were initially overpaying to recruit farmers to loot.  Arshad Yasin, Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law who had been involved in [looting and] smuggling operations in the past, is active again since 2003 in looting and smuggling of artifacts.  Farchakh is working on a film about all this." "... Paola Negri Scafa and Salvatore Viaggio [ENEA/Università di Pisa] ...  They have an incipient 3-D image and text database project of the cuneiform tablets of the National Museum in Baghdad."  <August 4 addition: but using solely already published tablets, I think; also, as was remarked from the audience, why re-invent the wheel already invented by the CDLI project at UCLA/Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte that has already processed more than 125,000 texts?>" [see also Daubree July 25, 2005]; "[David] Myers started with explaining how the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund joined in 2004 for their Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative.  They already have run a training session in November-December 2004 in Amman with 16 SBAH participants, a session in April 2005 at the British Museum in London with 3 SBAH staff, and in June 2005 a session for 6 SBAH staff; still to come: August-September 2005 for 18 SBAH staff, November 2005, April 2006, May 2006, June 2006, October-November 2006; to continue for several years.  Savage continued with more detail on the Iraq Cultural Heritage GIS database which will be bilingual Arabic/English (see [Photo 2]).  It's a significantly enhanced version of the JADIS one of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. They plan on making it web based eventually.  Roberto Parapetti [Iraqi-Italian Centre for the Restoration of Monuments] and Carlo Lippolis [Università di Torino] were then scheduled with 'The Contribution of the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino to the Reconstruction of Iraq's Cultural Heritage.'  They have been studying about 1400 artifacts seized by the Jordanian authorities, though not all are from Iraq.  Some still have the 'IM' number on them.  He showed an interesting overview of the type of objects confiscated.  The workshop concluded with 'The New FBI Art Crime Team and Iraq' by Bonnie Magness-Gardiner.  The new rapid-deployment Art Crime Team was created in response to the crisis in Iraq.  Legally, no Iraqi artifacts have been allowed to be imported into the US after 1990."

    "... there appeared an article about the RAI on the front page of the Chicago Tribune of July 23: "Babylon's dirty secrets: No tablet left unturned. Experts in a 4,000-year-old language find Mesopotamians faced rising home prices, booming harems and doctors who laid it on thick" by W. Mullen. ... Too bad this journalist didn't speak to any archaeologists...  He seems to have left with the impression that cuneiform texts was the thing the RAI was solely about. ... It's also odd that there wasn't a mention of the events in Iraq.  Looting of sites, anyone?  Which brings us to the impromptu but vehemently requested addition to the program of the Saturday workshop discussed in my 2 previous postings: a discussion on how to deal with unprovenanced, i.e., most-likely looted artifacts, esp. cuneiform tablets.  Unfortunately, I had to leave early in order to catch my plane back home.  It [the discussion, of course, not my leaving early  ;-)  ] was partially instigated by the petition that Michael Müller-Karpe had circulated." "I'd like to attend the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE) sometime and compare.  The next one is in April 2006 in Madrid. ... I see the organizing committee has already proposed a 'The State of Iraqi Archaeological Heritage (1990-2006). Looting, Restoration Projects, Current Situation' workshop!"

    "Regarding the discussion about what to do with artifacts looted from Iraq, esp. cuneiform tablets, that appear on the market in the West, let me tell a 'what if?' story I used as an example a couple of times while in Chicago.  As looters in Iraq are plundering rather systematically, on an unprecedented scale, at a fast rate of tell destruction and without much meaningful opposition, it would be quite possible that they hit upon the city of Agade.  This capital of the later-3rd-mill.-BC Akkadian empire has long eluded us scholars and presumably would contain many remains that would elucidate this pivotal episode in Mesopotamian history and culture.  Now say some tablets from this site reach an Assyriologist who's willing to ignore the telltale signs of recent looting.  He examines the texts and comes to the conclusion that they must have come from an archive in Agade!  He is ecstatic, tells the dealer.  The latter at once tracks down what tell the tablets came from and puts in an order for more.  Word gets around in the antiquities trade and among the smugglers and looters.  After all, a find like this is impossible to keep a secret.  A treasure hunting frenzy ensues.  A couple of weeks later, there is nothing left of the tell of Agade worth excavating.  At about that time, some Iraqi FPS archaeological guards finally arrive to check out what's going on but it's too late.  Lots of artifacts (sculptures, tablets, seals, etc.) pop up on the antiquities market, all claimed to have been dug up at the now (in)famous Tell X.  None of them have any archaeological context, stories about some having been found together may be true or may be just a ruse to drive up the price, even whether artifacts for sale are truly from Tell X is hardly certain.  This confused, hopeless mess is all that's left of Agade.  Some scholars wish the darn Tell X would never have been identified as Agade in the first place, instead left to be discovered at a later time when Iraq would have been at peace."

    "A statement was prepared by Michael Müller-Karpe for the RAI.  It condemns the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq and specifically urges scholars worldwide '... to refrain from providing expertise to the antiquities market and to private collectors, unless the artifacts in question can be proven to be neither excavated illegally nor exported without permission.'  It was presented at the Workshop [on Saturday] ... and was subsequently signed by 46 of its attendees. It has now been posted at the Workshop's web site. Scholars in the field of Assyriology and Mesopotamian archaeology/art history are encouraged to add their names to the list of signatures (see the web page on how to contact Clemens Reichel to do this). ... And yes, as you can see in the list of signed names, the Universität Wien now has a satellite program in the US, viz. in Kansas City, Missouri!  Just kidding.  As most people probably know by now, [IW&A] and assorted academic web stuff of my hand have been kindly 'adopted' by the Institut für Orientalistik of the University of Vienna in Austria, and, as an added bonus, they threw in a nice title to put on my business card.  However, I still don't have a permanent or full-time job, hence the PayPal buttons I've added just in case anyone has some spare change they'd like to donate."

    "Furthermore, a paper I didn't attend but should have... is now fortunately available online, both the text and the slides—thank you!—, 'New digital tools for Mesopotamian cultural heritage preservation at CDLI' by Cale Johnson." "... slide 12 is esp. interesting: '... a couple years ago, ... Bob Englund noticed several proto-cuneiform tablets that were being auctioned by Bonham’s in London. ... Englund and staff at CDLI do regularly monitor not only the traditional markets, but also new media of circulation such as eBay. Given the images of the tablets published in the auction book, Englund did a search, located the tablets in our database and also noticed that the same tablets had been offered for sale in Amman in September of 2000. It is thus likely that these were a few of the growing number of Late Uruk, Early Dynastic and Old Akkadian tablets, presumably from Umma and its vicinity, that have been flooding the markets since the 1990-91 Kuwait War. The important thing in this case is that only because of such basic tools as catalogs, archival images and transliterational corpora now in place was it even possible to know which tablets these were, and where they had been until recently.'" "Finally, as of August 18, there were 78 signatures under the Chicago Statement.  If you haven't signed yet, please do, and if you have, find a colleague who hasn't and make sure he/she does...  ;-)  "

Photo 1: "I  include a photo of  the looted site of Zabalam from the Four Corners Media web site"

Photo 2: [no caption; screen shot of the Iraq Cultural Heritage GIS database being set up in co-operation with the Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative]

Photo 3: [no caption; poster for the 5th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE), April 2006, Madrid; showing what looks like a 19th-cent. drawing of ruins of an Achaemenid palace in Iran]

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).