The Aftermath of Looting: Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Tablets

The Aftermath of Looting: Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Tablets

He who saw everything in the broad-boned earth, and knew what was to be known,
Who had experienced what there was, and had become familiar with all things.

The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The tornado has started

After the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 CE and the catastrophic collapse of the Republic of Iraq, the tragedy of the looting of the Iraq Museum and several other museums in Iraq, as well as the wide-spread illegal excavations in Mesopotamia (Iraq) prompted the government of Kurdistan and its Ministry of Councils to issue a decree.

Accordingly, thanks to the government of Kurdistan and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and their unlimited sponsorship, the Sulaymaniyah Museum, from 2003 CE to the present, has built, protected, and stored a very large cache of relics, belonging to several Mesopotamian periods, cultures, and histories. Many of the objects, bought by the Sulaymaniyah Museum, belonged to the Iraq Museum in Baghdad (the letters “IM” followed by numbers were written on the surface of the object); the Sulaymaniyah Museum returned and delivered these artefacts to that Museum in Baghdad. It is noteworthy to mention that the Sulaymaniyah Museum is not sponsored or funded by the central federal Government in Baghdad!

This clay tablet was black in color (an aftermath of fire). The surfaces were "stamped" many times. This angle of view demonstrates three beautiful stamp impressions containing cuneiform signs. Never-before-seen, exclusive photo. Illegally excavated from Southern Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.

Many people would consider this bargain unacceptable, as it would/will encourage more looters to sell their merchandise legally and more easily. Others argue that in that way, Iraqi Kurdistan, has been largely successful in intercepting the smuggling of Mesopotamian relics, and it is a very bold step to announce this publicly. I agree with the last opinion. For example, this is how the world enjoyed the newly unearthed tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh! I have heard and read many news stories that many objects from the Iraq Museum have been returned, but how? Many relics were in the United States, European countries, and neighbour countries. No one says how, or at the best, the majority will say no further information! It is understandable that some degree of lack of transparency should attend the scene.

Aftermath

I will now show you here some examples of these Mesopotamian clay tablets, currently housed in the Sulaymaniyah Museum. None of these tablets is on display and these photos are exclusive and never-before-seen. The hand which appears in each photo is mine; I held the tablets and shot them with my Nikon D90 camera in September 2014 CE. I have chosen 16 images out of approximately 10,000 ones I have.

Let us start with this tablet:

“Hi hi…it’s ty ty!” While I was shooting this tablet from several angles, I found this. This is an Arabic word (وركاء) written on the tablet using a blue marker. It reads Warka (Uruk). The Museum’s staff had no idea about this and did not notice it either! It was written by the plunderers; the tablet might well have been unearthed at the city of Uruk! Bang bang! Illegally excavated tablet.

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I remember seeing a very similar clay tablet, on display, at the British Museum, dating back to the 3rd millennium BCE. The looters had cleaned the surfaces of this complete and intact tablet in a very professional way. The cuneiform inscriptions are crystal-clear! Illegally excavated tablet. Another illegally excavated tablet, which is entirely black in color (an aftermath of fire). There are many cuneiform inscriptions on the surfaces but this tablet also has many obvious stamped impressions on it. Among a large collection of tablets, I have noticed that stamp impressions were found only on those "burnt tablets"; this may well suggest that they were excavated from a single spot! When I held this tablet in my hand, my body became numb. It was intact, complete, marvellous, and a breath-taking 5000 years old piece. The Sulaymaniyah Museum was successful in protecting this priceless relic from going outside Iraq; thanks to the Government of Iraqi Kurdistan. Illegally excavated tablet. This was a heavy clay tablet. It was complete, intact, and very beautiful. The overlying cuneiform inscriptions are easily readable. Illegally excavated tablet.

Now, let's see some other examples of how those plunderers managed to do surgical operations on their merchandise to fool future potential buyers:

This was a large and heavy tablet, which was cut into two halves by the excavators in order to be sold as two pieces, which means more income! The other half is lost (with whom is it now I wonder?) and the cuneiform text is therefore incomplete. We have here lost very valuable information because of those gold-diggers. Illegally excavated tablet.

This tablet was broken into many pieces. The excavators tried to join its fragments. Note the modern cement which was used to fill in some lost spaces and to join the pieces all together. The right lower piece was remodelled and re-shaped using modern cement and in situ debris. Still, some pieces were missing and could not be replaced. Such a process of “repair" has resulted, not only, in a distorted shape, but also ended-up with the loss of many cuneiform signs; a disaster to scholars! Illegally excavated tablet.

Another tablet which was broken into many pieces. Modern cement as well as in situ debris and unrelated fragments were used to “revive” this tablet. A brown paint was also used on some of the surfaces as a make up! Illegally excavated tablet.

A multi-fragment clay tablet joined together by modern cement and in situ debris. Some of the filling in fragments are unrelated; the tablet had to appear a complete item. Illegally excavated tablet.

Modern cement and in situ debris were used to fill in the gap in the upper part of this tablet. The process has also resulted in the loss of some the adjacent cuneiform signs. This looks like a bump on the forehead! Modern cement, sand, and in situ debris were used to fill in the lost angle of this illegally excavated tablet. Another tablet which was broken into many pieces; this is the reverse aspect of the tablet. Modern cement as well as in situ debris and unrelated fragments were used to “conserve” this tablet. This tablet was split into two longitudinal pieces. Note how the gang has filled in the spaces in between the fragments and the use of modern cement. Illegally excavated tablet. An expert at the Museum told me that the left piece is unrelated. The looters had re-shaped a fragment of another unrelated tablet to adjust it onto the vacant space. The use of modern cement can be seen. And last but not least, this exemplifies the mode of thinking of these looters. Note the bump at the upper margin; this is filled in by an unrelated fragment. This attitude of filling in each and every lost space has resulted in a loss of information, damage to adjacent cuneiform signs, adding misinformation, and finally a misshaping of the tablet.

These examples represent a drop in the ocean. From where do these tablets come? They have not popped-up from nowhere. Why it is very easy for plunderers to excavate and find such priceless relics? It seems that everybody knows that this or that hill or place is an ancient one and it holds ancient objects. What have our governments done so far through legal and scientific excavations and expeditions? Why is it difficult and time-consuming to scientifically unearth something, while illiterate gangsters do it in a very short time using primitive tools? Yes, I’m sure our readership knows the answers.

The aforementioned tablets came from Southern Mesopotamia, everybody knows that, and from already “diagnosed and labelled” crystal-clear ancient mounds, but the question is who is behind this organized illegal excavation which was done when the sun was at the heart of the sky?

A faint light at the end of the black tunnel

Let us take the newly discovered tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was bought in late 2012 CE by the Sulaymaniyah Museum; this priceless tablet actually only cost $800 and was on its way to a neighbouring country. Researchers have added many new pieces of information to the Epic after transliterating the cuneiform text of this tablet. The tablet is on display in the Sulaymaniyah Museum of Iraqi Kurdistan.

This is the newly discovered tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was illegally excavated, probably from an ancient mound at the Governorate of Babylon, Iraq. It is currently on display in the Sulaymaniyah Museum, Iraqi Kurdistan.

Finally, I had the honour of seeing all of those illegally unearthed tablets, touching them, holding them, and above all, exclusively photographing them for research purposes.

A special gratitude goes to Mr. Hashim Hama Abdullah, director of the Sulaymaniyah Museum, and Mr. Kamal Rashid, director general of the Directorate of Antiquities in Sulaymaniyah for their extreme help and unlimited cooperation.

This article was written in memory of the late Iraqi Archaeologist Taha Baqir (1912-1984).

It is not what you find, it is what you find out.

David Hurst Thomas.


The looting goes on

Iraqi police in the southern Province of Najaf have seized 40 artifacts belonging to different Mesopotamian periods, an Antiquities Department official said.

Abdulzahra al-Talaqani, the department’s spokesperson said, the stolen pieces were on their way to be smuggled out of the country.

Talaqani claimed the recent months have seen a surge in police activities in protecting Mesopotamian ruins.

Iraqi antiquities, like almost everything else in Iraq, have been the main victims of the 2003-U.S. invasion in whose immediate aftermath the Iraq Museum and several other provincial museums were looted.

Smugglers and illegal diggers invaded ancient sites and tens of thousands of artifacts are believed to have either been stolen or illegally dug up and sold.

Talaqani said smugglers and illegal diggers face harsh penalties if caught.

“Trading with stolen or smuggled ancient finds is punishable by at least 15 years in prison,” he said. “Using force to attack ancient sites and museums could lead to execution.”

At least one person was taken into custody pending trial when Najaf police stormed a house where the stolen pieces were kept, Talaqani said.

He did not comment on the archaeological significance of the artifacts.

3 Responses to The looting goes on

With the war happening in Iraq, it’s obvious that they had lost and will lose artifacts that can help in the puzzle of the history of Mathematics. These ancient sites and artifacts that are worth a lot will affect Iraq. A lot of artifacts needed to explain the history of Mathematics are in Iraq therefore these artifacts that have been stolen will affect the history of Mathematics and many stories will remain unknown. With such penalties even execution explain the importance of these ancient sites and artifacts. The fact that he did not comment about the archaeological significance of the artifacts mean that they meant to the country since it’s where they had their origins. Hopefully, with the war in Iraq, they don’t steal more of these documents because it will help and mean a lot to many professors especially math professors and fellow students like myself interested in the history of Mathematics. With incidents like these, the government should secure more these ancient sites and artifacts.

Much like Plimpton 322, these rare glimpses into our past in Iraq are seemingly doomed. Mankind has a horrible history of looting and and destroying antiquities. The famed library at Alexandria burned to the ground destroying knowledge we may never know the benefit of. Who knows what secrets are holed away inside the vaults of the Vatican never to be revealed.
The horror of the current wars in Iraq now make future searches of these once fertile fields scarier and unhealthier than ever thanks to the depleted uranium from today’s bullets and bombs, which will leave the land toxic for decades to come.

Looting history is what some people believe to be worth a lot of money. Since history cannot be remade, those pieces of history are invaluable and some people want that. It is like catching a rare animal and selling it. Artifacts are worth so much more than just money, it has significance to what we know today and understand. It is owning a piece of what made today – today.


The Aftermath of Looting: Illegally Excavated Mesopotamian Tablets - History

Bloomsbury Auctions/BNPS This 5,000-year-old tablet depicting beer-making and a signed sales transaction was sold for $230,000.

A wealthy American collector just purchased an ancient Sumerian tablet for $230,000.

According to archaeology news site Ancient Origins, the Sumerian tablet was first uncovered at the site of the ancient city of Uruk located in ancient Mesopotamia, or now modern-day Iraq. It was part of the private Schøyen Collection, a collection of tablets and manuscripts dating back to ancient written history.

The tablet itself is a one-of-a-kind artifact, not only because of its detailed inscription about an ancient beer sale but also because it holds what many believe to be the world’s first signature.

Symbols on the top left corner of the tablet — the supposed signature — translate as ‘KU’ and ‘SIM’ which experts have interpreted as spelling the name ‘Kushim.’ The name was possibly that of a government scribe who created the recording on the clay tablet for administrative purposes.

However, others suspect ‘Kushim’ could be the name of a government agency or title rather than a specific individual. The inscribed name has been found in 17 other tablets. On some of them, the name is addressed as ‘Sanga’ or temple administrator.

MOD Site of the ancient city of Uruk where the Sumerian tablet was found.

Israeli author Y. N. Harari, who wrote the historical book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, noted that the inscription on the ancient tablet reads 󈬍,086 measures barley 37 months Kushim.”

The etching has been interpreted as some sort of receipt for the purchase of barley which was commonly used to brew Sumerian beer. Other symbols on the tablet depict the industrial process of beer brewing using barley or corn up until it becomes a jar of beer.

The process appears to take place in a temple in ancient Mesopotamia around 3,100 B.C., dating the tablet back to 5,000 years ago.

As part of a private collection, the historical artifact which measures three-by-three inches was sold in an auction under Bloomsbury Auctions, an auction house based in London, U.K.

“One only gets a few chances to work with any item of such importance, marking a milestone in perhaps the most important human invention – writing,” said Timothy Bolton, a specialist at Bloomsbury Auctions.

He continued, “Our names are important to us, they are a fundamental part of our identity and probably the first thing any child learns about itself.”

The artifact was projected to fetch a sum of £90,000, or a little below $200,000. But bidders at the auction showed high enthusiasm for the tablet which possibly bears the earliest known personal name recorded in writing. In the end, the Sumerian tablet went to a private American collector for $230,000.

Other recording tablets have been found in Sumer, the earliest known civilization in the region of ancient Mesopotamia, depicting the population’s beer culture. One Sumerian tablet shows people drinking beer through a long straw.

British Museum A different tablet from ancient Mesopotamia depicting possible rations for beer.

Beer was integral to the Sumerian way of life, possessing significance in religion and society, and even demonstrating currency value as experts believe the beverage was also used to pay workers. No doubt, these tablets are an incredibly valuable source of history.

But Sumerian tablets have become an increasingly hot commodity on the antiquities market as shown from the high bidding for this tablet. Many of these artifacts were likely illegally excavated and looted from Iraq amid the instability of the region’s wars.

As Craig Barker, a classical archaeologist and museum educator based in Sydney, Australia, wrote, “The looting is regarded as one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism in modern times, but much more of Iraq’s rich cultural history has been destroyed, damaged or stolen in the years since.”

In 2018, roughly 450 stolen Sumerian tablets were repatriated from the U.S. to Iraq. Still, experts agree it was small restitution compared to the breadth of artifact theft that has long pervaded the field of archaeology worldwide.

Perhaps one day the signature tablet from Sumer will be returned to its origins in Iraq so it can benefit public knowledge rather than sitting idly in a private owner’s cabinet.


Iraq’s Ancient Ruins Face New Looting

DHAHIR, Iraq — The looting of Iraq’s ancient ruins is thriving again. This time it is not a result of the “stuff happens” chaos that followed the American invasion in 2003, but rather the bureaucratic indifference of Iraq’s newly sovereign government.

Thousands of archaeological sites — containing some of the oldest treasures of civilization — have been left unprotected, allowing what officials of Iraq’s antiquities board say is a resumption of brazenly illegal excavations, especially here in southern Iraq.

A new antiquities police force, created in 2008 to replace withdrawing American troops, was supposed to have more than 5,000 officers by now. It has 106, enough to protect their headquarters in an Ottoman-era mansion on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad and not much else.

“I am sitting behind my desk and I am protecting the sites,” the force’s commander, Brig. Gen. Najim Abdullah al-Khazali, said with exasperation. “With what? Words?”

The failure to staff and use the force — and the consequent looting — reflects a broader weakness in Iraq’s institutions of state and law as the American military steadily withdraws, leaving behind an uncertain legacy.

Many of Iraq’s ministries remain feeble, hampered by corruption, the uncertain divisions of power and resources and the political paralysis that has consumed the government before and after this year’s election.

In the case of Iraq’s ancient ruins, the cost has been the uncountable loss of artifacts from the civilizations of Mesopotamia, a history that Iraq’s leaders often evoke as part of the country’s once and, anticipating archaeological research and tourism, future greatness.

“The people who make these decisions, they talk so much about history in their speeches and conferences,” said the director of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Qais Hussein Rashid, referring to the plight of the new police force, “but they do nothing.”

The looting today has not resumed on the scale it did in the years that immediately followed the American invasion in 2003, when looters — tomb raiders, essentially — swarmed over sites across the country, leaving behind moonlike craters where Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Persian cities once stood.

Even so, officials and archaeologists have reported dozens of new excavations over the past year, coinciding with the withdrawal of American troops, who until 2009 conducted joint operations with the Iraqi police in many areas now being struck by looters again. The antiquities police say they do not have the resources even to keep records of reported lootings.

Here in Dhahir, the looting is evident in the shattered bits of civilization — pieces of pottery, glass and carved stone — strewn across an expanse of desert that was once a Sumerian trading town known as Dubrum.

The bowls, vases and other pieces are destroyed and discarded by looters who seek gold, jewelry and cuneiform tablets or cylinders that are easy to smuggle and resell, according to Abdulamir al-Hamdani, a former antiquities inspector in Dhi Qar Province. The nearest city, Farj, is notorious for a black market in looted antiquities, he said.

“For me, for you, it is all priceless,” he said, “but for them it is useless if they can’t sell it in the market.”

The Dubrum site — which stretches for miles in a sparsely populated region — is pocked by hundreds of trenches, some deeper than 10 or 12 feet. At the bottom of some is the brickwork of tombs, marking the area as a cemetery. Mr. Hamdani said tombs were the most highly valued targets — of archaeologists and looters alike.

Many of the trenches date to the postinvasion chaos, but others have been freshly dug. Just last month someone used a bulldozer and plowed a two-foot-deep gash in the desert, unearthing the brick and bitumen remains of a stairway possibly leading to another cemetery. The materials dated it to the Babylonian period in the seventh century B.C.

The precision of the new looting indicates expertise. “The thief is in the house,” Mr. Hamdani said, suggesting that many of those involved worked on the sites years ago when legitimate archaeological excavations took place, before the war that toppled Saddam Hussein.

A Bedouin reported the new excavation to the local police in Dhi Qar, but officers there could do little except to draw public attention to the problem.

Mr. Hamdani’s successor as antiquities inspector for the province, Amir Abdul Razak al-Zubaidi, said he did not even have the budget to pay for gas to drive to the sites of new looting.

“No guards, no fences, nothing,” Mr. Hamdani said. “The site is huge. You can do whatever you want.”

Until the creation of the antiquities police in 2008, responsibility for protecting archaeological sites rested with the Federal Protection Police, created, equipped and trained by the American military. The federal police, however, also guard government officials and buildings, like schools and museums. The ruins, some just desolate patches of desert, slipped down the list of priorities.

Rather than filling the gap, the creation of the antiquities police deepened it. Iraq’s various military and police forces simply left the issue to an agency that effectively still does not operate, nearly two years later.

Mr. Rashid, director of the antiquities board, also said his agency’s request for a $16 million budget in 2010 had been slashed to $2.5 million. The police officers promised by the Ministry of the Interior simply have yet to materialize, despite an order last year from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

“Not everything the prime minister requests from his ministers is obeyed,” he said. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry declined to comment on the status of the antiquities police.

Mr. Rashid went on to complain that the looters in some southern provinces — including Dhi Qar and Wasit — operated with the collusion of the law enforcement authorities. “The hand of law cannot reach them,” he said.

The extent and lasting impact of the looting in sites like Dubrum may never be known, since they have never been properly excavated to begin with.

Mr. Zubaidi, the inspector in Dhi Qar, compared the current crisis to the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad, a convulsive ransacking that shocked the world into action. The museum’s fate continues to attract far more attention from the government and international donors.

“Most of the pieces that were stolen from the National Museum will come back,” Mr. Zubaidi said. “Each piece was marked and recorded.” Nearly half the 15,000 pieces looted from the museum have been returned. “The pieces that were stolen here will never be returned,” he said. “They are lost forever.”


Robbing the Cradle of Civilization

Chalmers Johnson is professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego and President of the Japan Pollicy Research Institute. From 1968 until 1972 he served as a consultant to the Office of National Estimates of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is the author of The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006, and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007).

Copyright 2007 Chalmers Johnson. Used by permission of the author.

SUMMARY

President Bush’s supporters have talked endlessly about his global war on terrorism as a “clash of civilizations.” But the civilization we are in the process of destroying in Iraq is part of our own heritage. Professor Johnson documents the looting and destruction of the Cradle of Civilization.

In the months before he ordered the invasion of Iraq, George Bush and his senior officials spoke of preserving Iraq's "patrimony" for the Iraqi people. At a time when talking about Iraqi oil was taboo, what he meant by patrimony was exactly that -- Iraqi oil. In their "joint statement on Iraq's future" of April 8, 2003, George Bush and Tony Blair declared, "We reaffirm our commitment to protect Iraq's natural resources, as the patrimony of the people of Iraq, which should be used only for their benefit."[1] In this they were true to their word. Among the few places American soldiers actually did guard during and in the wake of their invasion were oil fields and the Oil Ministry in Baghdad. But the real Iraqi patrimony, that invaluable human inheritance of thousands of years, was another matter. At a time when American pundits were warning of a future "clash of civilizations," our occupation forces were letting perhaps the greatest of all human patrimonies be looted and smashed.

There have been many dispiriting sights on TV since George Bush launched his ill-starred war on Iraq -- the pictures from Abu Ghraib, Fallujah laid waste, American soldiers kicking down the doors of private homes and pointing assault rifles at women and children. But few have reverberated historically like the looting of Baghdad's museum -- or been forgotten more quickly in this country.

Teaching the Iraqis about the Untidiness of History

In archaeological circles, Iraq is known as "the cradle of civilization," with a record of culture going back more than 7,000 years. William R. Polk, the founder of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, says, "It was there, in what the Greeks called Mesopotamia, that life as we know it today began: there people first began to speculate on philosophy and religion, developed concepts of international trade, made ideas of beauty into tangible forms, and, above all developed the skill of writing."[2] No other places in the Bible except for Israel have more history and prophecy associated with them than Babylonia, Shinar (Sumer), and Mesopotamia -- different names for the territory that the British around the time of World War I began to call "Iraq," using the old Arab term for the lands of the former Turkish enclave of Mesopotamia (in Greek: "between the [Tigris and Eurphrates] rivers").[3] Most of the early books of Genesis are set in Iraq (see, for instance, Genesis 10:10, 11:31 also Daniel 1-4 II Kings 24).

The best-known of the civilizations that make up Iraq's cultural heritage are the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Sassanids, and Muslims. On April 10, 2003, in a television address, President Bush acknowledged that the Iraqi people are "the heirs of a great civilization that contributes to all humanity."[4.] Only two days later, under the complacent eyes of the U.S. Army, the Iraqis would begin to lose that heritage in a swirl of looting and burning.

In September 2004, in one of the few self-critical reports to come out of Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense, the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication wrote: "The larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists. But American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended."[5] Nowhere was this failure more apparent than in the indifference -- even the glee -- shown by Rumsfeld and his generals toward the looting on April 11 and 12, 2003, of the National Museum in Baghdad and the burning on April 14, 2003, of the National Library and Archives as well as the Library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowments. These events were, according to Paul Zimansky, a Boston University archaeologist, "the greatest cultural disaster of the last 500 years." Eleanor Robson of All Souls College, Oxford, said, "You'd have to go back centuries, to the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258, to find looting on this scale."[6] Yet Secretary Rumsfeld compared the looting to the aftermath of a soccer game and shrugged it off with the comment that "Freedom's untidy. . . . Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes."[7]

The Baghdad archaeological museum has long been regarded as perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East. It is difficult to say with precision what was lost there in those catastrophic April days in 2003 because up-to-date inventories of its holdings, many never even described in archaeological journals, were also destroyed by the looters or were incomplete thanks to conditions in Baghdad after the Gulf War of 1991. One of the best records, however partial, of its holdings is the catalog of items the museum lent in 1988 to an exhibition held in Japan's ancient capital of Nara entitled Silk Road Civilizations. But, as one museum official said to John Burns of the New York Times after the looting, "All gone, all gone. All gone in two days."[8]

A single, beautifully illustrated, indispensable book edited by Milbry Park and Angela M.H. Schuster, The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005), represents the heartbreaking attempt of over a dozen archaeological specialists on ancient Iraq to specify what was in the museum before the catastrophe, where those objects had been excavated, and the condition of those few thousand items that have been recovered. The editors and authors have dedicated a portion of the royalties from this book to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.

At a conference on art crimes held in London a year after the disaster, the British Museum's John Curtis reported that at least half of the forty most important stolen objects had not been retrieved and that of some 15,000 items looted from the museum's showcases and storerooms about 8,000 had yet to be traced. Its entire collection of 5,800 cylinder seals and clay tablets, many containing cuneiform writing and other inscriptions some of which go back to the earliest discoveries of writing itself, was stolen.[9] Since then, as a result of an amnesty for looters, about 4,000 of the artifacts have been recovered in Iraq, and over a thousand have been confiscated in the United States.[10] Curtis noted that random checks of Western soldiers leaving Iraq had led to the discovery of several in illegal possession of ancient objects. Customs agents in the U.S. then found more. Officials in Jordan have impounded about 2,000 pieces smuggled in from Iraq in France, 500 pieces in Italy, 300 in Syria, 300 and in Switzerland, 250. Lesser numbers have been seized in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. None of these objects has as yet been sent back to Baghdad.

The 616 pieces that form the famous collection of "Nimrud gold," excavated by the Iraqis in the late 1980s from the tombs of the Assyrian queens at Nimrud, a few miles southeast of Mosul, were saved, but only because the museum had secretly moved them to the subterranean vaults of the Central Bank of Iraq at the time of the first Gulf War. By the time the Americans got around to protecting the bank in 2003, its building was a burnt-out shell filled with twisted metal beams from the collapse of the roof and all nine floors under it. Nonetheless, the underground compartments and their contents survived undamaged. On July 3, 2003, a small portion of the Nimrud holdings was put on display for a few hours, allowing a handful of Iraqi officials to see them for the first time since 1990.[11]

The torching of books and manuscripts in the Library of Korans and the National Library was in itself a historical disaster of the first order. Most of the Ottoman imperial documents and the old royal archives concerning the creation of Iraq were reduced to ashes. According to Humberto Márquez, the Venezuelan writer and author of Historia Universal de La Destrucción de Los Libros (2004), about a million books and ten million documents were destroyed by the fires of April 14, 2003.[12] Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent of the Independent of London, was in Baghdad the day of the fires. He rushed to the offices of the U.S. Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau and gave the officer on duty precise map locations for the two archives and their names in Arabic and English, and pointed out that the smoke could be seen from three miles away. The officer shouted to a colleague, "This guy says some biblical library is on fire," but the Americans did nothing to try to put out the flames.[13]

Given the black market value of ancient art objects, U.S. military leaders had been warned that the looting of all thirteen national museums throughout the country would be a particularly grave danger in the days after they captured Baghdad and took control of Iraq. In the chaos that followed the Gulf War of 1991, vandals had stolen about 4,000 objects from nine different regional museums. In monetary terms, the illegal trade in antiquities is the third most lucrative form of international trade globally, exceeded only by drug smuggling and arms sales.[14] Given the richness of Iraq's past, there are also over 10,000 significant archaeological sites scattered across the country, only some 1,500 of which have been studied. Following the Gulf War, a number of them were illegally excavated and their artifacts sold to unscrupulous international collectors in Western countries and Japan. All this was known to American commanders.

In January 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, an American delegation of scholars, museum directors, art collectors, and antiquities dealers met with officials at the Pentagon to discuss the forthcoming invasion. They specifically warned that Baghdad's National Museum was the single most important site in the country. McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute said, "I thought I was given assurances that sites and museums would be protected."[15] Gibson went back to the Pentagon twice to discuss the dangers, and he and his colleagues sent several e-mail reminders to military officers in the weeks before the war began. However, a more ominous indicator of things to come was reported in the April 14, 2003, London Guardian: Rich American collectors with connections to the White House were busy "persuading the Pentagon to relax legislation that protects Iraq's heritage by prevention of sales abroad." On January 24, 2003, some sixty New York-based collectors and dealers organized themselves into a new group called the American Council for Cultural Policy and met with Bush administration and Pentagon officials to argue that a post-Saddam Iraq should have relaxed antiquities laws.[16] Opening up private trade in Iraqi artifacts, they suggested, would offer such items better security than they could receive in Iraq.

The main international legal safeguard for historically and humanistically important institutions and sites is the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, signed on May 14, 1954. The U.S. is not a party to that convention, primarily because, during the Cold War, it feared that the treaty might restrict its freedom to engage in nuclear war but during the 1991 Gulf War the elder Bush's administration accepted the convention's rules and abided by a "no-fire target list" of places where valuable cultural items were known to exist.[17] UNESCO and other guardians of cultural artifacts expected the younger Bush's administration to follow the same procedures in the 2003 war.

Moreover, on March 26, 2003, the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), headed by Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jay Garner -- the civil authority the U.S. had set up for the moment hostilities ceased -- sent to all senior U.S. commanders a list of sixteen institutions that "merit securing as soon as possible to prevent further damage, destruction, and/or pilferage of records and assets." The five-page memo dispatched two weeks before the fall of Baghdad also said, "Coalition forces must secure these facilities in order to prevent looting and the resulting irreparable loss of cultural treasures" and that "looters should be arrested/detained." First on Gen. Garner's list of places to protect was the Iraqi Central Bank, which is now a ruin second was the Museum of Antiquities. Sixteenth was the Oil Ministry, the only place that U.S. forces occupying Baghdad actually defended. Martin Sullivan, chair of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property for the previous eight years, and Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and a member of the committee, both resigned to protest the failure of CENTCOM to obey orders. Sullivan said it was "inexcusable" that the museum should not have had the same priority as the Oil Ministry.[18]

As we now know, the American forces made no effort to prevent the looting of the great cultural institutions of Iraq, its soldiers simply watching vandals enter and torch the buildings. Said Arjomand, an editor of the journal Studies on Persianate Societies and a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, wrote, "Our troops, who have been proudly guarding the Oil Ministry, where no window is broken, deliberately condoned these horrendous events."[19] American commanders claim that, to the contrary, they were too busy fighting and had too few troops to protect the museum and libraries. However, this seems to be an unlikely explanation. During the battle for Baghdad, the U.S. military was perfectly willing to dispatch some 2,000 troops to secure northern Iraq's oilfields, and their record on antiquities did not improve when the fighting subsided. At the 6,000-year-old Sumerian city of Ur with its massive ziggurat, or stepped temple-tower (built in the period 2112 - 2095 B.C. and restored by Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century B.C.), the Marines spray-painted their motto, "Semper Fi" (semper fidelis, always faithful) onto its walls.[20] The military then made the monument "off limits" to everyone in order to disguise the desecration that had occurred there, including the looting by U.S. soldiers of clay bricks used in the construction of the ancient buildings.

Until April 2003, the area around Ur, in the environs of Nasiriyah, was remote and sacrosanct. However, the U.S. military chose the land immediately adjacent to the ziggurat to build its huge Tallil Air Base with two runways measuring 12,000 and 9,700 feet respectively and four satellite camps. In the process, military engineers moved more than 9,500 truckloads of dirt in order to build 350,000 square feet of hangars and other facilities for aircraft and Predator unmanned drones. They completely ruined the area, the literal heartland of human civilization, for any further archaeological research or future tourism. On October 24, 2003, according to the Global Security Organization, the Army and Air Force built its own modern ziggurat. It "opened its second Burger King at Tallil. The new facility, co-located with [a] . . . Pizza Hut, provides another Burger King restaurant so that more service men and women serving in Iraq can, if only for a moment, forget about the task at hand in the desert and get a whiff of that familiar scent that takes them back home."[21]

The great British archaeologist, Sir Max Mallowan (husband of Agatha Christie), who pioneered the excavations at Ur, Nineveh, and Nimrud, quotes some classical advice that the Americans might have been wise to heed: "There was danger in disturbing ancient monuments. . . . It was both wise and historically important to reverence the legacies of ancient times. Ur was a city infested with ghosts of the past and it was prudent to appease them."[22]

The American record elsewhere in Iraq is no better. At Babylon, American and Polish forces built a military depot, despite objections from archaeologists. John Curtis, the British Museum's authority on Iraq's many archaeological sites, reported on a visit in December 2004 that he saw "cracks and gaps where somebody had tried to gouge out the decorated bricks forming the famous dragons of the Ishtar Gate" and a "2,600-year-old brick pavement crushed by military vehicles."[23] Other observers say that the dust stirred up by U.S. helicopters has sandblasted the fragile brick façade of the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C.[24] The archaeologist Zainab Bahrani reports, "Between May and August 2004, the wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the Temple of Ninmah, both of the sixth century B.C., collapsed as a result of the movement of helicopters. Nearby, heavy machines and vehicles stand parked on the remains of a Greek theater from the era of Alexander of Macedon [Alexander the Great]."[25]

And none of this even begins to deal with the massive, ongoing looting of historical sites across Iraq by freelance grave and antiquities robbers, preparing to stock the living rooms of western collectors. The unceasing chaos and lack of security brought to Iraq in the wake of our invasion have meant that a future peaceful Iraq may hardly have a patrimony to display. It is no small accomplishment of the Bush administration to have plunged the cradle of the human past into the same sort of chaos and lack of security as the Iraqi present. If amnesia is bliss, then the fate of Iraq's antiquities represents a kind of modern paradise.

President Bush's supporters have talked endlessly about his global war on terrorism as a "clash of civilizations." But the civilization we are in the process of destroying in Iraq is part of our own heritage. It is also part of the world's patrimony. Before our invasion of Afghanistan, we condemned the Taliban for their dynamiting of the monumental third century A.D. Buddhist statues at Bamiyan in March, 2001. Those were two gigantic statues of remarkable historical value and the barbarism involved in their destruction blazed in headlines and horrified commentaries in our country. Today, our own government is guilty of far greater crimes when it comes to the destruction of a whole universe of antiquity, and few here, when they consider Iraqi attitudes toward the American occupation, even take that into consideration. But what we do not care to remember, others may recall all too well.

[1.] American Embassy, London, " Visit of President Bush to Northern Ireland, April 7-8, 2003."

[2.] William R. Polk, "Introduction," Milbry Polk and Angela M. H. Schuster, eds., The Looting of the Iraq Museum: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005), p. 5. Also see Suzanne Muchnic, "Spotlight on Iraq's Plundered Past," Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2005.

[3.] David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (New York: Owl Books, 1989, 2001), p. 450.

[4.] George Bush's address to the Iraqi people, broadcast on "Towards Freedom TV," April 10, 2003.

[5.] Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication (Washington, D.C.: September 2004), pp. 39-40.

[6.] See Frank Rich, "And Now: 'Operation Iraqi Looting,'" New York Times, April 27, 2003.

[7.] Robert Scheer, "It's U.S. Policy that's 'Untidy,'" Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2003 reprinted in Books in Flames, Tomdispatch, April 15, 2003.

[8.] John F. Burns, "Pillagers Strip Iraqi Museum of Its Treasures," New York Times, April 13, 2003 Piotr Michalowski (University of Michigan), The Ransacking of the Baghdad Museum is a Disgrace, History News Network, April 14, 2003.

[9.] Polk and Schuster, op. cit, pp. 209-210.

[10.] Mark Wilkinson, Looting of Ancient Sites Threatens Iraqi Heritage, Reuters, June 29, 2005.

[11.] Polk and Schuster, op. cit., pp. 23, 212-13 Louise Jury, "At Least 8,000 Treasures Looted from Iraq Museum Still Untraced," Independent, May 24, 2005 Stephen Fidler, "'The Looters Knew What They Wanted. It Looks Like Vandalism, but Organized Crime May be Behind It,'" Financial Times, May 23, 2003 Rod Liddle, The Day of the Jackals, Spectator, April 19, 2003.

[12.] Humberto Márquez, Iraq Invasion the 'Biggest Cultural Disaster Since 1258,' Antiwar.com, February 16, 2005.

[13.] Robert Fisk, "Library Books, Letters, and Priceless Documents are Set Ablaze in Final Chapter of the Sacking of Baghdad," Independent, April 15, 2003.

[14.] Polk and Schuster, op. cit., p. 10.

[15.] Guy Gugliotta, "Pentagon Was Told of Risk to Museums U.S. Urged to Save Iraq's Historic Artifacts," Washington Post, April 14, 2003 McGuire Gibson, "Cultural Tragedy In Iraq: A Report On the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites," International Foundation for Art Research.

[16.] Rod Liddle, op. cit.. Oliver Burkeman, Ancient Archive Lost in Baghdad Blaze, Guardian, April 15, 2003.

[17.] See James A. R. Nafziger, Art Loss in Iraq: Protection of Cultural Heritage in Time of War and Its Aftermath, International Foundation for Art Research.

[18.] Paul Martin, Ed Vulliamy, and Gaby Hinsliff, U.S. Army was Told to Protect Looted Museum, Observer, April 20, 2003 Frank Rich, op. cit. Paul Martin, "Troops Were Told to Guard Treasures," Washington Times, April 20, 2003.

[19.] Said Arjomand, Under the Eyes of U.S. Forces and This Happened?, History News Network, April 14, 2003.

[20.] Ed Vulliamy, Troops 'Vandalize' Ancient City of Ur, Observer, May 18, 2003 Paul Johnson, Art: A New History (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), pp. 18, 35 Polk and Schuster, op. cit., p. 99, fig. 25.

[21.] Tallil Air Base, GlobalSecurity.org.

[22.] Max Mallowan, Mallowan's Memoirs (London: Collins, 1977), p. 61.

[23.] Rory McCarthy and Maev Kennedy, Babylon Wrecked by War, Guardian, January 15, 2005.

[24.] Owen Bowcott, Archaeologists Fight to Save Iraqi Sites, Guardian, June 20, 2005.

[25.] Zainab Bahrani, "The Fall of Babylon," in Polk and Schuster, op. cit., p. 214.

This essay is extracted from Chalmers Johnson's Nemesis: The Crisis of the American Republic, forthcoming from Metropolitan Books in late 2006, the final volume in the Blowback Trilogy. The first two volumes are Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000) and The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004).

Copyright 2005 Chalmers Johnso

Religion Online is designed to assist teachers, scholars and general “seekers” who are interested in exploring religious issues. Its aim is to develop an extensive library of resources, representing many different points of view, but all written from the perspective of sound scholarship.


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I have read quite a few critical appraisals of the Iraq invasion and occupation. With most, there are several anecdotes of people that tried to warn the war planners and commanders of the invasion force. This is followed by details on how these concerns were pitched and what reaction was gotten from those in power.

This book misses that final step. The story told in this book is seemingly one of concerned archaeologists writing desperate missives to the Pentagon that went inexplicably un-returned and un-considered.

The author did report on allusions by some in command that museum protection was "way down the list" this kind of answer is so glib and general that there is no utility in printing it. After all, in the course of executing any large operation, there are many tasks on the list but all of them, if important enough to be on the list at all, should be resourced and adjudicated to some level of satisfaction.

After reading all 160 pages and the foot notes, I have no better an idea of why the Pentagon did not plan to guard the Baghdad Museum and countryside dig sites than I did before I started reading the book. Was it laziness? Cultural arrogance? Rumsfeld's emphasis on keeping the invasion force as lean as possible? Unusually, and legitimately unexpectedly heavy combat conditions that prevented forces from performing the civil security role? The book just does not provide any information for the reader to come to a conclusion. This is just not acceptable for a book published so many years after the fact about a tragedy that has been so widely covered.

At the outset, let me say that I have read the kudos given this work on this site these come from various important publications. But I beg to differ strongly with the favorable impression they create.

Personally, this was a very difficult read. Harking back to my days as a professor, I was reminded of how it recalls very bad doctoral dissertations, of the type that I would either have rejected or insisted on the author's doing a rewrite. The research is oustanding and comprehensive, but the presentation is worse than pedantic. Rothfield is drunk on alphabet-soup organizations to the extent that the reader becomes totally lost and confused as they are continually cited. Yes, bureaucracy malfunctioned worse than ever here, but the point does not need to be made on every other page.

This book is a missed opportunity because the American public needs to know what happened and did not happen in re: the looting of the great Baghdad Museum. For that reason, there should be some popularization of this topic because the disaster there cries out for widespread publicity. Although Rothfield does not so state, there is implicit anti-intellectualism in the failure to pay absolutely no attention to the museum. American military indifference, ineptitude, and incompetence need to be chronicled in readable fashion. Recent works describing the looting of Italy in WW II provide examples of how readable accounts can be handled.

I do not want to labor this critical view, but in closing let me say that I am amazed that the University of Chicago Press let this book be published with little if any evidence of the work of a serious editor.

Finally, this book's main value seems to be largely as a reference work for the wealth of data it contains. As a narrative of the disaster in Baghdad, it is a total failure.


Contents

Looting of ancient artifacts has a long tradition. As early as 1884, laws passed in Mesopotamia about moving and destroying antiquities. [1] By the end of World War I, British-administrated Mesopotamia created protections for archaeological sites where looting was beginning to become a problem. [2] They established an absolute prohibition on exporting antiquities. [2] The British Museum was responsible for the sites and museums across Iraq during this time period. Gertrude Bell, well known for drawing the Iraq borders, excavated many sites around Iraq and created what is now the National Museum of Iraq. [3]

By the mid 1920s the black market for antiquities was growing and looting began in all sites where antiquities could be found. After Iraq gaining independence from Britain, the absolute ban on antiquity exports was lifted. Until the mid 1970s Iraq was one of very few countries to not prohibit external trade in antiquities. [4] This made Iraq attractive to looters and black market collectors from around the globe. The result of the Gulf War was that at least 4000 artifacts were looted from Iraq sites. [5] Uprisings that followed the war also resulted in 9 of 13 regional museums being looted and burned. [5]

Upon becoming president in 1979, Saddam Hussein treasured his national heritage immensely and acted to defend these sites and the artifacts within them. He believed that the past of Iraq was important to his national campaign and his regime actually doubled the national budget for archaeology and heritage creating museums and protecting sites all over Iraq. [6] It wasn't until his Ba'ath Party was under pressure in the 1990s that looting become a large problem once again for Iraq. [7] By 2000 looting had become so rampant that the workers of the sites were even looting their own workplaces. [8] With the fall of Saddam's government in 2003, archaeological sites were left completely open and looting became an even greater problem. Some sites, such as Ur and Nippur, were officially protected by US and Coalition forces.

Before the start of the Iraq War, the US government created a post-war plan for Iraq. [9] According to Lawrence Rothfield, former director of the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago and associate professor of English and comparative literature, this looting of the National Museum of Iraq and of hundreds of archaeological sites around the country was not prevented. [9] At the time of war planning it was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who decided on a fast invasion with fewer troops, resulting in inadequate protection of buildings and cultural sites. [ citation needed ]

American troops and commanders did not prioritize security for cultural sites around Iraq. [10] Peacekeeping was seen as a lesser job than physically fighting in combat and President Bush's suspension of former president Clinton's policies for peacekeeping not only backed up this thought but also made the US's duties to restore public order unclear. [11] American troops in Iraq didn't trust Iraqi power of any kind meaning that instead of using and training Iraqi police, the US military took matters of security and policing into their own hands. [10] Essentially the US would act as peacekeepers to train a national army and police force. Special Forces teams would work with regional warlords to keep control of their territories. [11] Allowing warlords to police their own areas has been credited with being a disastrous plan for the archaeological sites in particular. [12]

Arthur Houghton had an interest and some expertise in cultural heritage and was one of the first to wonder what the pre-war plan was for Iraqi culture. He had worked in the State Department as a Foreign Service officer, as an international policy analyst for the White house and also served at an acting curator for the Getty Museum. [12] In late spring 2002, Houghton was approached by Ashton Hawkins, former Executive Vice President and Counsel to the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum, and was asked to find out what was being done by officials to secure heritage sites in the upcoming war in Iraq. [13] Houghton could find no one designated with the task of protection and preservation of culture in Iraq. [13]

There had been a secret Future of Iraq Project since October 2001, with clearance from the Pentagon. However, even under this Project no specific person had taken up responsibility of culture. [14] Even archaeological organizations in the US hadn't noticed the issue until late 2002. Likewise when the US Agency for Cultural Development (USAID) met with estimated 150 NGO's not one brought up protection of cultural heritage. [15] UNESCO had in fact, after the Gulf War in 1991, attempted to go into Iraq and assess the damage to cultural sites but they were not allowed to enter the country. [16] UNESCO then focused, for the next decade, on reconstruction after the fact rather than prevention measures. [17]

Within the US military, Civil Affairs (CA) forces were important to the protection of culture and, as they were mostly reservists, included experts in a variety of areas including archaeology. [18] The plan was to spread the expertise among fighting forces in order to warn them of cultural sites in the area. [19] However, CA was left out of pre-war planning until January 2003, when it was too late to be of any real significant help. The CA had to prioritize the small amount of CA troops to what they thought was necessary, which inevitably wasn't culture. [19] The CA did, however, pull the only two archaeologists in Civil Affairs to be on a culture team, Maj. Chris Varhola and Capt. William Sumner. [19] These two men, however, in the end were sent to other places when the conflict began. Varhola was needed to prepare for the refugee crises that never arrived and Sumner was reassigned to guard a zoo after pushing his advisor too hard on antiquities issues. [19] Any protection of culture, sites or buildings was stopped due to the priorities of other matters. Essentially no one who had archaeological expertise was senior enough to get anything done. [20]

Another branch of the US government that had interest in culture was the Foreign Area Offices (FAO). Unfortunately though, they were focused on customs and attitudes rather than archaeological sites. [20] Something that was accomplished was the creation of a no-strike list created by Maj. Varhola just like two archaeologists before him had done during the 1991 Gulf War which had a great outcome of saving antiquities from bombing. [20]

One piece of international law that is important for this conflict is the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, this Convention states that parties in conflict must "under take to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any act of vandalism directed against, cultural property. [21] " This provision was constructed for the parties actually in combat within the war and not civilians within their own state. As the upcoming years would prove, there are exceptions to this convention and they would result in Americans firing on the Iraq National Museum.

By fall 2002, post-war planning was sporadic and improvised. The cultural planning aspect needed to have leadership that it never got. [22] Deputy Assistant under the Security of Defense, Joseph Collins, recalls some forces spent more time working on projects that ended up not being needed like a refugee crises plan. He says he can't remember if there was even an organizational plans to solve specific issues. [22]

The first known effort by cultural interests to contact US officials was October 2002. After a meeting of powerful players in culture, Houghton sent a letter asking for departments to tell forces to avoid damaging monuments, soldiers were to respect the integrity of sites, and lastly to work quickly to get the antiquities services in Iraq up and running again. [23] Following this, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) also sent a similar letter to the Pentagon in December 2002 asking for governments to take action to prevent looting in the aftermath of the war. [24] As 2002 came to an end the media and government were only broadcasting the good done by the troops in not destroying cultural heritage themselves but not on the looting done by people in Iraq and the Americans duty to protect the antiquities. [24]


US returns 3,800 smuggled Mesopotamian artifacts to Iraq

ERBIL, (Kurdistan 24) &ndash US officials handed over nearly 4,000 Mesopotamian artifacts smuggled from Iraq and bought illegally by an American arts-and-crafts company to the Iraqi Ambassador in Washington on Wednesday.

The roughly 3,800 items include Sumerian cuneiform tablets, many of them from the ancient cities of Ur and Irisagrig, located in what is now modern-day Iraq. Some are thought to date back as far as 2,100 BC.

Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) displayed some of the antiquities for the press during a ceremony, held at the Washington residence of Iraq's Ambassador to the United States, Fareed Yasseen.

&ldquoWe will continue to work together to prevent the looting of antiquities and ensure that those who would attempt to profit from this crime are held accountable,&rdquo ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan told the media.

The company, an arts-and-crafts retail chain called Hobby Lobby, agreed in July to surrender the items and pay a $3 million fine.

US Justice Department officials claimed in court proceedings that Hobby Lobby bought the items for $1.6 million through dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel, ignoring multiple indications that the items had been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq.

In a statement made just after the civil action had been brought against the company last summer, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said, &ldquoThe company was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process. This resulted in some regrettable mistakes.&rdquo

Green also founded Washington's controversial Museum of the Bible in 2016, which critics say favors a view of biblical history catered to a particular form of American evangelical Christianity rather than that accepted by most biblical scholars.

Hobby Lobby previously announced that the antiquities were not purchased to be displayed in the museum, but did not specify what it had intended to do with them.


Dear Kitty. Some blog

This video is called “Stuff Happens!” – Rumsfeld on looting after the fall of Baghdad in Iraq.

By Robert Fisk in British daily The Independent:

It is the death of history

Special investigation by Robert Fisk

Published: 17 September 2007

2,000-year-old Sumerian cities torn apart and plundered by robbers. The very walls of the mighty Ur of the Chaldees cracking under the strain of massive troop movements, the privatisation of looting as landlords buy up the remaining sites of ancient Mesopotamia to strip them of their artefacts and wealth. The near total destruction of Iraq‘s historic past – the very cradle of human civilisation – has emerged as one of the most shameful symbols of our disastrous occupation.

Evidence amassed by archaeologists shows that even those Iraqis who trained as archaeological workers in Saddam Hussein’s regime are now using their knowledge to join the looters in digging through the ancient cities, destroying thousands of priceless jars, bottles and other artefacts in their search for gold and other treasures.

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, armies of looters moved in on the desert cities of southern Iraq and at least 13 Iraqi museums were plundered. Today, almost every archaeological site in southern Iraq is under the control of looters.

In a long and devastating appraisal to be published in December, Lebanese archaeologist Joanne Farchakh says that armies of looters have not spared “one metre of these Sumerian capitals that have been buried under the sand for thousands of years.

“They systematically destroyed the remains of this civilisation in their tireless search for sellable artefacts: ancient cities, covering an estimated surface area of 20 square kilometres, which – if properly excavated – could have provided extensive new information concerning the development of the human race.

“Humankind is losing its past for a cuneiform tablet or a sculpture or piece of jewellery that the dealer buys and pays for in cash in a country devastated by war. Humankind is losing its history for the pleasure of private collectors living safely in their luxurious houses and ordering specific objects for their collection.”

Ms Farchakh, who helped with the original investigation into stolen treasures from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, says Iraq may soon end up with no history.

“There are 10,000 archaeological sites in the country. In the Nassariyah area alone, there are about 840 Sumerian sites they have all been systematically looted. Even when Alexander the Great destroyed a city, he would always build another. But now the robbers are destroying everything because they are going down to bedrock. What’s new is that the looters are becoming more and more organised with, apparently, lots of money.

“Quite apart from this, military operations are damaging these sites forever. There’s been a US base in Ur for five years and the walls are cracking because of the weight of military vehicles. It’s like putting an archaeological site under a continuous earthquake.”

Of all the ancient cities of present-day Iraq, Ur is regarded as the most important in the history of man-kind. Mentioned in the Old Testament – and believed by many to be the home of the Prophet Abraham – it also features in the works of Arab historians and geographers where its name is Qamirnah, The City of the Moon.

Founded in about 4,000 BC, its Sumerian people established the principles of irrigation, developed agriculture and metal-working. Fifteen hundred years later – in what has become known as “the age of the deluge” – Ur produced some of the first examples of writing, seal inscriptions and construction. In neighbouring Larsa, baked clay bricks were used as money orders – the world’s first cheques – the depth of finger indentations in the clay marking the amount of money to be transferred. The royal tombs of Ur contained jewellery, daggers, gold, azurite cylindrical seals and sometimes the remains of slaves.

US officers have repeatedly said a large American base built at Babylon was to protect the site but Iraqi archaeologist Zainab Bah-rani, a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, says this “beggars belief”. In an analysis of the city, she says: “The damage done to Babylon is both extensive and irreparable, and even if US forces had wanted to protect it, placing guards round the site would have been far more sensible than bulldozing it and setting up the largest coalition military headquarters in the region.”

Air strikes in 2003 left historical monuments undamaged, but Professor Bahrani, says: “The occupation has resulted in a tremendous destruction of history well beyond the museums and libraries looted and destroyed at the fall of Baghdad. At least seven historical sites have been used in this way by US and coalition forces since April 2003, one of them being the historical heart of Samarra, where the Askari shrine built by Nasr al Din Shah was bombed in 2006.”

The use of heritage sites as military bases is a breach of the Hague Convention and Protocol of 1954 (chapter 1, article 5) which covers periods of occupation although the US did not ratify the Convention, Italy, Poland, Australia and Holland, all of whom sent forces to Iraq, are contracting parties. …

The legions of antiquities looters work within a smooth mass-smuggling organisation. Trucks, cars, planes and boats take Iraq’s historical plunder to Europe, the US, to the United Arab Emirates and to Japan. The archaeologists say an ever-growing number of internet websites offer Mesopotamian artefacts, objects anywhere up to 7,000 years old.


Robert Fisk: It is the death of history

2,000-year-old Sumerian cities torn apart and plundered by robbers. The very walls of the mighty Ur of the Chaldees cracking under the strain of massive troop movements, the privatisation of looting as landlords buy up the remaining sites of ancient Mesopotamia to strip them of their artefacts and wealth. The near total destruction of Iraq's historic past – the very cradle of human civilisation – has emerged as one of the most shameful symbols of our disastrous occupation.

Evidence amassed by archaeologists shows that even those Iraqis who trained as archaeological workers in Saddam Hussein's regime are now using their knowledge to join the looters in digging through the ancient cities, destroying thousands of priceless jars, bottles and other artefacts in their search for gold and other treasures.

In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, armies of looters moved in on the desert cities of southern Iraq and at least 13 Iraqi museums were plundered. Today, almost every archaeological site in southern Iraq is under the control of looters.

In a long and devastating appraisal to be published in December, Lebanese archaeologist Joanne Farchakh says that armies of looters have not spared "one metre of these Sumerian capitals that have been buried under the sand for thousands of years.

"They systematically destroyed the remains of this civilisation in their tireless search for sellable artefacts: ancient cities, covering an estimated surface area of 20 square kilometres, which – if properly excavated – could have provided extensive new information concerning the development of the human race.

"Humankind is losing its past for a cuneiform tablet or a sculpture or piece of jewellery that the dealer buys and pays for in cash in a country devastated by war. Humankind is losing its history for the pleasure of private collectors living safely in their luxurious houses and ordering specific objects for their collection."

Ms Farchakh, who helped with the original investigation into stolen treasures from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, says Iraq may soon end up with no history.

"There are 10,000 archaeological sites in the country. In the Nassariyah area alone, there are about 840 Sumerian sites they have all been systematically looted. Even when Alexander the Great destroyed a city, he would always build another. But now the robbers are destroying everything because they are going down to bedrock. What's new is that the looters are becoming more and more organised with, apparently, lots of money.

"Quite apart from this, military operations are damaging these sites forever. There's been a US base in Ur for five years and the walls are cracking because of the weight of military vehicles. It's like putting an archaeological site under a continuous earthquake."

Of all the ancient cities of present-day Iraq, Ur is regarded as the most important in the history of man-kind. Mentioned in the Old Testament – and believed by many to be the home of the Prophet Abraham – it also features in the works of Arab historians and geographers where its name is Qamirnah, The City of the Moon.

Founded in about 4,000 BC, its Sumerian people established the principles of irrigation, developed agriculture and metal-working. Fifteen hundred years later – in what has become known as "the age of the deluge" – Ur produced some of the first examples of writing, seal inscriptions and construction. In neighbouring Larsa, baked clay bricks were used as money orders – the world's first cheques – the depth of finger indentations in the clay marking the amount of money to be transferred. The royal tombs of Ur contained jewellery, daggers, gold, azurite cylindrical seals and sometimes the remains of slaves.

US officers have repeatedly said a large American base built at Babylon was to protect the site but Iraqi archaeologist Zainab Bah-rani, a professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University, says this "beggars belief". In an analysis of the city, she says: "The damage done to Babylon is both extensive and irreparable, and even if US forces had wanted to protect it, placing guards round the site would have been far more sensible than bulldozing it and setting up the largest coalition military headquarters in the region."

Air strikes in 2003 left historical monuments undamaged, but Professor Bahrani, says: "The occupation has resulted in a tremendous destruction of history well beyond the museums and libraries looted and destroyed at the fall of Baghdad. At least seven historical sites have been used in this way by US and coalition forces since April 2003, one of them being the historical heart of Samarra, where the Askari shrine built by Nasr al Din Shah was bombed in 2006."

The use of heritage sites as military bases is a breach of the Hague Convention and Protocol of 1954 (chapter 1, article 5) which covers periods of occupation although the US did not ratify the Convention, Italy, Poland, Australia and Holland, all of whom sent forces to Iraq, are contracting parties.

Ms Farchakh notes that as religious parties gain influence in all the Iraqi pro-vinces, archaeological sites are also falling under their control. She tells of Abdulamir Hamdani, the director of antiquities for Di Qar province in the south who desperately – but vainly – tried to prevent the destruction of the buried cities during the occupation. Dr Hamdani himself wrote that he can do little to prevent "the disaster we are all witnessing and observing".

In 2006, he says: "We recruited 200 police officers because we were trying to stop the looting by patrolling the sites as often as possible. Our equipment was not enough for this mission because we only had eight cars, some guns and other weapons and a few radio transmitters for the entire province where 800 archaeological sites have been inventoried.

"Of course, this is not enough but we were trying to establish some order until money restrictions within the government meant that we could no longer pay for the fuel to patrol the sites. So we ended up in our offices trying to fight the looting, but that was also before the religious parties took over southern Iraq."

Last year, Dr Hamdani's antiquities department received notice from the local authorities, approving the creation of mud-brick factories in areas surrounding Sumerian archaeological sites. But it quickly became apparent that the factory owners intended to buy the land from the Iraqi government because it covered several Sumerian capitals and other archaeological sites. The new landlord would "dig" the archaeological site, dissolve the "old mud brick" to form the new one for the market and sell the unearthed finds to antiquity traders.

Dr Hamdani bravely refused to sign the dossier. Ms Farchakh says: "His rejection had rapid consequences. The religious parties controlling Nassariyah sent the police to see him with orders to jail him on corruption charges. He was imprisoned for three months, awaiting trial. The State Board of Antiquities and Heritage defended him during his trial, as did his powerful tribe. He was released and regained his position. The mud-brick factories are 'frozen projects', but reports have surfaced of a similar strategy being employed in other cities and in nearby archaeological sites such as the Aqarakouf Ziggarat near Baghdad. For how long can Iraqi archaeologists maintain order? This is a question only Iraqi politicians affiliated to the different religious parties can answer, since they approve these projects."

Police efforts to break the power of the looters, now with a well-organised support structure helped by tribal leaders, have proved lethal. In 2005, the Iraqi customs arrested – with the help of Western troops – several antiquities dealers in the town of Al Fajr, near Nasseriyah. They seized hundreds of artefacts and decided to take them to the museum in Baghdad. It was a fatal mistake.

The convoy was stopped a few miles from Baghdad, eight of the customs agents were murdered, and their bodies burnt and left to rot in the desert. The artefacts disappeared. "It was a clear message from the antiquities dealers to the world," Ms Farchakh says.

The legions of antiquities looters work within a smooth mass-smuggling organisation. Trucks, cars, planes and boats take Iraq's historical plunder to Europe, the US, to the United Arab Emirates and to Japan. The archaeologists say an ever-growing number of internet websites offer Mesopotamian artefacts, objects anywhere up to 7,000 years old.

The farmers of southern Iraq are now professional looters, knowing how to outline the walls of buried buildings and able to break directly into rooms and tombs. The archaeologists' report says: "They have been trained in how to rob the world of its past and they have been making significant profit from it. They know the value of each object and it is difficult to see why they would stop looting."

After the 1991 Gulf War, archaeologists hired the previous looters as workers and promised them government salaries. This system worked as long as the archaeologists remained on the sites, but it was one of the main reasons for the later destruction people now knew how to excavate and what they could find.

Ms Farchakh adds: "The longer Iraq finds itself in a state of war, the more the cradle of civilisation is threatened. It may not even last for our grandchildren to learn from."

A land with fields of ancient pottery

By Joanne Farchakh, archaeologist

Iraq's rural societies are very different to our own. Their concept of ancient civilisations and heritage does not match the standards set by our own scholars. History is limited to the stories and glories of your direct ancestors and your tribe. So for them, the "cradle of civilisation" is nothing more than desert land with "fields" of pottery that they have the right to take advantage of because, after all, they are the lords of the land and, as a result, the owners of its possessions. In the same way, if they had been able, these people would not have hesitated to take control of the oil fields, because this is "their land". Because life in the desert is hard and because they have been "forgotten" by all the governments, their "revenge" for this reality is to monitor, and take, every single money-making opportunity. A cylinder seal, a sculpture or a cuneiform tablet earns $50 (£25) and that's half the monthly salary of an average government employee in Iraq. The looters have been told by the traders that if an object is worth anything at all, it must have an inscription on it. In Iraq, the farmers consider their "looting" activities to be part of a normal working day.


Watch the video: Cracking Ancient Codes: Cuneiform Writing - with Irving Finkel