The Iraq War & Archaeology
Reviewed Articles Archive Nine: First 1/2 of August 2003

This is the ninth 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.

  • K. Taha, "Iraq Looks Ahead to 10 Million Tourists. Senior Iraqi Tourism Official Says His Country Has Potential To Be Among Premier Tourist Destinations in World," in Middle East Online, online, August 14, 2003: "'With the Tigris and the Euphrates, the marshes and forests of palm trees, and the archaeological sites of ancient Mesopotamia and holy Shiite cities, Iraq should be counted among the premier tourist destinations in the world,' said  Rauf al-Ansari, coordinator general of Iraq's tourism office. 'All of these assets should allow us to reach 10 million tourists in the coming years,' he added, ignoring the chaotic realities on the ground such as daily attacks on US forces, carjackings, looting, kidnappings and a Baghdad airport still closed to civilian traffic. Despite the official optimism, the director general of private Iraqi tourism firm Land of Dreams, Hilal Shawkat, estimated that the relaunch of touristic activity in Iraq needs at least five billion dollars in investment."

Photo: "The ancient city of Babylon flourished for about fifteen centuries"

Photo: "Het RietenHuis, Theaterfestival 2003, deSingel, Antwerpen"

Photo 1: "Nice building. My taxi drive says the name, but I cannot understand." [looks like one of the reconstructed gates of Nineveh]

Photo 2: "Architecture" [ditto]

Photo 1: "Hadi Qater Mouser is one of the archaeologists who helped excavate the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon south of Baghdad in Iraq.  President Saddam Hussein disregarded the advice of preservation experts and ordered a historically inaccurate reconstruction of many of the ruins. The process destroyed the remnants of some of the world's most notable ancient treasures, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Steven Adams/Tribune-Review"

Photo 2: "This brick bears the statement that this ancient city of Babylon was built by Saddam Hussein.  Archaeologists are horrified that Saddam inaccurately reconstructed the brick walls on top of the remnants of a city so important in history.  Steven Adams/Tribune-Review"

  • M. Gottlieb and B. Meier, "Ancient Art at Met Raises Old Ethical Questions," in The New York Times, August 2, 2003: "Almost lost in the sumptuous display of Mesopotamian antiquities in the 'Art of the First Cities' exhibition now at the Metropolitan Museum is a small limestone fragment, triangular in shape and delicately carved. The piece shows Naram-Sin, a king of the ancient Akkadian empire, seated beside Ishtar, goddess of love, fertility and war." [rightmost in the fig. on the right] ... No record of its excavation or history of ownership has emerged. In antiquities circles, that empty space amounts to a warning label: this piece may be the fruit of plunder." "The marketplace is full of objects with mysterious pasts — a lot of them indeed looted — and it's often anything but clear which ones are legitimate and which are not. How to handle such orphan objects — is it ethical to buy them, to show them, even to write scholarly articles about them? — is one of the central, and most divisive, issues in the hothouse world of museums, collectors and archaeologists. But the debate has become increasingly public and pointed with the recent events in Iraq. In the 'First Cities' show, the Naram-Sin fragment is one of at least eight objects in that murky zone without a clear record of excavation and chain of ownership, known in the art world as provenance. The Metropolitan's director, Philippe de Montebello, ... Shunting aside artifacts for lack of documentation, he added, is a disservice to the public and scholars. ... But many experts argue that by including such objects in exhibitions, museums abet an illicit trade that destroys archaeological sites and erodes historical knowledge." "... Jonathan P. Rosen ... his collection is especially rich in Mesopotamian cylinder seals — engraved stones used to make distinctive wax [sic] impressions. He and his wife, Jeannette, are major contributors to the Met, and have underwritten costly purchases of antiquities for its collection. ... acquired the Naram-Sin limestone and two other objects of unknown provenance he lent the Met for the show 'through well-regarded and highly reputable dealers in Europe.'" "In the search for pieces with pedigree, collectors are necessarily at a disadvantage. Since host governments control artifacts excavated in sanctioned digs, collectors must buy primarily from galleries, dealers and at auction. And while this marketplace contains many legitimate objects — principally items excavated decades ago, before the proliferation of national laws and international barriers to the illicit trade — it is also teeming with plunder." "'If a reputable scholar publishes an article about an artifact, they're giving it the imprimatur of authenticity based on their scholarship and expertise,' said Jane C. Waldbaum, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, the nation's largest archaeological association. For that reason, archaeologists are sharply divided about the ethics of publishing articles about artifacts whose provenance is not established. In the 1970's, the institute barred members from making initial presentations about such artifacts in its journals or at its annual meeting. In a recent interview, [Donald P.] Hansen [a New York University archaeologist] acknowledged that some colleagues would not have written about the fragment. But he said its imagery was so unusual that it merited a place in the scholarly literature." "The clearest dividing line is between institutions that have mainly acquired objects though excavations and those that rely heavily on donations from collectors, like the Met. Since the 1970's, archaeologically oriented institutions like the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Field Museum in Chicago have held artifacts against the harshest light, requiring proof that they were not looted in recent decades. In the 1990's, the British Museum, one of the world's leading museums, took a similar stand. [changing its longstanding policy] ... Institutions like the Met say they also require rigorous evidence for acquisitions. But they impose a looser standard to objects loaned for temporary exhibitions.  In such cases, Mr. de Montebello said, the museum relies on information from lenders or published articles."

  • J.M. Russell, "A Personal Account of the First UNESCO Cultural Heritage Mission to Baghdad, May 16–20, 2003," in Archaeological Institute of America, online, August 2003: thanks to Dr. Russell for kindly providing me with digital pictures of higher quality than in the publication; the more reason I have to apologize for forgetting to review this report promptly beyond posting the pics–sorry, John; I point out some interesting things (9-29-03)

  • National Museum: "Other targets for theft were the display of objects from the Ninhursag temple at al-Ubaid, most of which were subsequently recovered, and the display of cuneiform-inscribed bricks, of which nine were stolen and are still missing (figs. 10, 11) [photos 5-6]. A number of objects that weren't stolen were damaged, including a particularly fierce-looking Harmal-type lion and a woman from Hatra, who suffered an attempted beheading with a blunt instrument (figs. 12, 13)." "Conservation lab: This area is much larger than I expected—6 or 7 large rooms occupying one long hallway. All of it has been trashed by looters. Chemicals were stolen or dumped on the floor and portable equipment, such as microscopes, was stolen. The only equipment remaining is a scanning electron microscope that doesn't work, and four kilns for firing tablets. At present the temperature sensors on the kilns are inaccurate, which has apparently resulted in the destruction of at least one important archive of tablets. Muthena Muslim, the Director of Conservation, has cleaned up the mess, but the entire lab needs to be reequipped, and staff training brought up to date.
    Incoming objects room: This room is normally used as the place where objects coming into the museum from excavations are processed and as a holding area for objects on their way to the conservation lab. It had also been completely trashed. At the time of our visit, it was being used as the temporary location for damaged objects that were still on display in the public galleries during the looting, including the harp from Ur (broken and stripped of its gold covering), the formerly bejeweled skull of a woman from Ur, and a number of Nimrud ivories (figs. 20, 21, 22) [photos 7-9].  The famous marble face of a woman from Warka was stolen from this room."

    "Old magazine: The lower room, entered from the first floor, had been cleaned up since the looting occurred. A number of metal footlockers on the floor contained finds from 2002 excavations at sites reportedly including Harba, Wilaya, Seleucia, and Aqar Quf (fig. 24). These objects, which had been registered but not yet put away, had been dumped on the floor by looters and plundered. No tablets or cylinder seals were in these boxes. Nawala al-Mutawalli, director of the museum, said these objects had been inventoried and returned to their boxes. Many other objects, including a considerable number of replicas and fakes, were stolen from shelves in this room. The upper store room is located directly above the first floor room and accessible only from it. It houses dozens, if not hundreds, of Torah scrolls and their boxes. The room has slit windows, which provided natural light that facilitated the work of the looters. One of these windows was the site of a sniper's nest. I photographed it and climbed up to look out (fig. 25 [photo 11], 26)."

    "The first basement [storage] room was not badly disturbed, except near the door, where a considerable number of wooden trays of water-damaged Nimrud ivories were scattered on the floor. According to Muthena Muslim, the director of conservation, these ivories had suffered water damage during the 1990's while stored in metal footlockers on the floor of this room, when the sump pumps stopped working and the floor flooded to a depth of 10-15 cm. They were too saturated by water and mold for her to work with them, so she put them, untreated, in open wooden trays to dry out. These were subsequently overturned and scattered during the looting of the storeroom, further aggravating an already major conservation emergency." "The second basement [storage] room seems to have been the most disturbed, with the theft of a still-unknown number of small objects, including jewelry and cylinder seals. The most serious loss from this room was the entire collection of cylinder seals accessioned into the museum prior to 1991, a total of 4795 seals. Just prior to the 1991 war these had been moved to a secure facility for safety. In 2000 they were moved into the basement store room for eventual storage in locked cabinets (where seals accessioned after 1991 were already stored). They had not yet been put into the cabinets, however, and so were easy prey for the looters, ..."

    "Museum library: The library was being used by American soldiers as living quarters, and as the place where recovered objects were spread out on a large table (fig. 27). Most of the ones on view were said to be among the 400+ objects contained in metal footlocker #175 and two cardboard boxes, which were seized by Chalabi's men from smugglers heading for Iran. The curious thing is that most of the objects in these boxes were forgeries and reproductions, as also seem to be most of the objects on display that the Americans claim to have recovered from looters. Apparently these objects were stored in the first floor storeroom and were stolen indiscriminately by looters along with genuine pieces." "There are a variety of possibilities for monitoring illegal activity at [archaeological] sites: satellite surveillance, aerial surveillance with an unmanned drone or from a helicopter, and land patrols, but stopping this activity once detected requires a military presence of some size, or an armed mobile Iraqi patrol force of sufficient size to discourage the looters, some of whom are reportedly armed."

    "UPDATE (AUGUST 2003)     I have not been back to Iraq since the UNESCO mission in May, so this update relies entirely on reports from those who have been there more recently or are working there now." "The US has announced that a wide range of federal agencies hope to assist with cultural reconstruction in Iraq ( Apart from the clearly targeted initiatives of the Department of State and the National Endowment for the Humanities, however, these plans are very short on specifics. There is still no telephone or email communication between the antiquities department in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq or the outside world." "None of the 10,337 objects stolen from the basement storerooms—all of them genuine and many of them extremely valuable and easily marketable—had been recovered in Iraq, which strongly supports [Bogdanos's] conclusion that the theft there was carried out by professionals. These thieves are unlikely to be impressed by the offer of an amnesty without rewards. The department would like to augment the amnesty program with small rewards to induce Iraqis to return objects stolen from the Iraq Museum rather than sending them out of the country, but so far the Coalition has been unable to provide the necessary funds. There is still no effective policing for smuggled antiquities on the Iraqi side of the border. The Coalition is relying on the customs services of Jordan and other neighboring countries to intercept antiquities leaving Iraq. While Jordan is certainly doing its share, I have seen no reports of interceptions in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, or Turkey, and these countries account for 95% of the length of Iraq's border."

    "UNESCO and INTERPOL have reached an agreement whereby UNESCO will collect the results of the inventory and pass them on to INTERPOL for entry into its stolen art database, but to date UNESCO has apparently not yet started to do this. Independent of UNESCO, an Italian carabiniere assigned to the museum has been assembling information on the stolen cylinder seals and sending it to INTERPOL. Apart from the thirty objects still missing from the public galleries, which have been well publicized, I do not know how many, if any, of the roughly 10,500 objects still missing are in the INTERPOL database, ..." "As Bechtel and other foreign companies gear up for massive infrastructure construction projects in Iraq, it is not clear what provisions, if any, have been made to ensure that appropriate archaeological survey and salvage are carried out ahead of the bulldozers. While Iraqi law requires permission from the antiquities department prior to commencing construction, and requires that the department supervise survey and salvage work if needed, it is not clear whether foreign companies and the Coalition will recognize this law, nor how such efforts would be coordinated, nor whether the department currently has the human resources to fulfill this role. There is the very real potential here for yet another archaeological disaster in Iraq."

Photo 1: "Fig. 6.  Sumerian gallery with display cases emptied for protection before the war Baghdad. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 2: "Fig. 7.  Bassetki statue's display case, with its side smashed. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 3: "Fig. 8.  Broken stairs where the Bassetki statue was apparently dragged down. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 4: "Fig. 9.  Restored foot of the Warka vase, still attached to its display pedestal (© J. Russell)"

Photo 5: "Fig. 10.  Objects from the Ninhursag temple at al-Ubaid.  Only a copper relief of a bull is still missing. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 6: "Fig. 11.  Display of cuneiform-inscribed bricks. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 7: "Fig. 20.  Harp from Ur. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 8: "Fig. 21.  Skull from Ur. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 9: "Fig. 22.  Ivory carving from Nimrud. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 10: "Fig. 23.  Basement storerooms, walled-up doorway breached by looters. (© J. Russell)"

Photo 11: "Fig. 25.  Old magazine, upper level, sniper's nest. (© J. Russell)"

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).