To the oilfields, the ecology of the Gulf and the lives of countless civilians and soldiers, add another potential casualty of the impending war: the cultural patrimony of Western civilization. In January scholars gave Defense Department officials the names of archeological sites they hoped to spare. �[The military] had a list of 150,� says McGuire Gibson, professor of Mesopotamian archeology at the University of Chicago�s Oriental Institute. �We gave them over 4,000 more�but that only covers the 10 to 15 percent of the country we�ve studied.� Gibson is cautiously encouraged by the record of the earlier war, in which allied bombing spared most important monuments, even those adjoining military targets that were destroyed. But he�s also aware that in the featureless plains of southern Iraq, the only high ground consists of the ruins of ancient cities. If the Iraqis make a stand, these mounds, which can be as much as four miles around and 80 feet high, are the natural places to do it.
But they say that a bigger danger
...is from looting. This has been a feature of war in this part of the world since long before the seventh century B.C., when a frieze in one of the palaces at Nineveh depicted an event described thusly in Michael Roaf�s �Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia�: �An Assyrian soldier brings in a severed head to be counted with the rest of the booty after a battle in Babylonia.� In 1991, with Baghdad�s iron control over the country shattered, �nine of 13 regional museums were completely looted,� says Richard Zettler, associate curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Iraqi civilians began tearing into unexcavated sites with front-end loaders, carrying away anything of value. The plunder has been turning up ever since in dealers� catalogs and at auctions around the world. Last week on eBay, sellers were offering 4,000-year-old cuneiform-tablet fragments (�Be sure to bid on this fantastic piece of history!�) and a Sumerian silver necklace from 2500 B.C. �There are Iraqi antiquities everywhere you look,� says John Malcolm Russell, an authority on the region at Massachusetts College of Art. �And they didn�t all come from someone�s basement. There are very few legitimate objects on the antiquities market.�
The article is from Newsweek/MSNBC and came to my attention via The Command Post. Note the reference to Saddam and Nebuchadnezzar in the last paragraph. I've noticed a couple of similar articles in recent weeks and meant to blog on them tomorrow, but since this article came out today I thought I'd slip it in now. The other references are in my office and if they add anything I'll link to them later. If any readers have been involved in the efforts to keep the antiquities safe and you have more info, please pass it on to me!
UPDATE: here are links to the other two articles on Iraqi antiquities, one from Reuters and the other from the Washington Post. Each overlaps with the article quoted above, but also adds a little new information. (25 March 12:17 p.m.)