Note on John Russell's Lecture "Recovering Iraq's Past"
in St. Louis on November 5, 2005

November 16, 2005 Francis Deblauwe IW&A Documents, 6

Dr. Russell, who needs no introduction, delivered this well-illustrated lecture at
the Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur Exhibition Roundtable: A New Look at the
Ancient Kingdom of Ur
at the St. Louis Art Museum. Another speaker of note in the
context of IW&A was Dr. Richard Zettler who spoke about the human side of the early-
20th-century excavations at and the excavators of Ur. His University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has also been active in the ongoing efforts
to salvage Iraqi archaeological heritage, e.g., Shiffman and Horn February 15, 2005.

National Museum in Baghdad

During the cleaning of the recovered Warka mask
(Lady of Warka), a trace of blue pigment was discovered
close to her left ear. This had not been noticed
before, which strikes me as kind of amazing. The
public-galleries artifacts that were presciently
hidden away in the so-called "secret place" had been
kept there during most of the 1990s. They had only
been back in the Museum in recent years. The metal
trunks in which they had been kept showed severe signs
of corrosion, presumably from problems with standing
water in the "secret place." Russell showed photos of
some artifacts as they came out of those trunks. They
were in a precarious, degraded condition due to the
water issues: Halaf pottery, Nimrud ivories, cuneiform
tablets, coins. For instance, the pottery was crumbling
and coins were stuck together with the paper envelopes
containing and separating them gone. Luckily, the mold
on some of the ivories was on a varnish and therefore
easy to remove. Some 60 of the best Nimrud ivories
though had been stored with the gold treasure in the Central Bank and were exposed to
very dirty water: they are in bad shape, have become friable. Pietro Cordone, the
Italian Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture in the early days, requested
the (in)famous one-day exhibition of the Nimrud gold in the National Museum in early
July 2003, despite reservations from the Iraqi colleagues. I always suspected of
course that it was more a political stunt than anything else...

Ur (Tell el-Muqayyar)

An area between the ancient city of Ur and the air strip of the Tallil air base had
been left largely empty ever since the air strip was built in the early 20th century.
The air base borders the archaeological site. In 2003, however, the US military built
in this empty area which is also on the ancient road connecting Ur with ancient Eridu
to the southwest. I include below some satellite photographs similar to the one he
showed. The first one (fig. 1) predates the troublesome building activity. Ur is the
rounded shape "stuck" to the northeastern side of the rectangular air base while the
runways are in the middle, running northwest to southeast. The area in question is
where you can see some roads in a rectangular pattern, on the central northeastern part
of the air base. In the more recent photos (figs. 2 and 3), one can spot clearly the
building activity that has taken place since between the more visible Tallil runways
and round archaeological remains of Ur. As an extra, I add a satellite photo of the Ur
temple enclosure (fig. 4). The obvious landmark is the famous reddish brown ziggurat
in the center left. The royal cemetery that yielded the exquisite gold and silver jewelry
and other artifacts that can be viewed in the exhibition is the darkish area at the bottom
center of the photo.

Fig. 1 - "CIB overview Tallil Airbase and Weapon Storage Area as of 1995," from

Fig. 2 - Tallil Air Base and Ur, "taken in the last 3 years" but most likely after the above-mentioned building activity, from Google Earth

Fig. 3 - Northern part of Tallil Air Base and Ur, "taken in the last 3 years" but most likely after the above-mentioned building activity, from Google Earth

Fig. 4 - Close-up of the temple enclosure of Ur, "taken in the last 3 years" but most likely after the above-mentioned building activity, from Google Earth

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