Monday, May 05, 2003


"Most antiquities feared lost in looting found intact in museum" (Austin American-Statesman)

By Christine Spolar
Sunday, May 4, 2003

BAGHDAD � The vast majority of the Iraqi trove of antiquities feared stolen or broken have been found inside the National Museum in Baghdad, according to American investigators who compiled an inventory over the weekend of the ransacked galleries.

A total of 38 pieces, not tens of thousands, are now believed to be missing. Among them is a single display of Babylonian cuneiform tablets that accounts for nine missing items.

As the byline says, the article originated in the Chicago Tribune (I've verified this from their website, although I'm not registered and so cannot actually access the article there). I hope this news is true, but I think it will be weeks or more before we get a clear idea of the damage and in the meantime we should be skeptical of all such reports, positive or negative.

UPDATE (3:02 pm): That was the positive; here's the negative. Same comments apply:

"Experts Despair of Iraq's Stopping Loss of Relics" (New York Times)


NASIRIYA, Iraq, May 4 � The ransacking of the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad last month may have prompted urgent calls for a clampdown on trafficking in Iraqi antiquities, but Iraqi and American officials concede that it will be almost impossible to prevent the continued illegal export of treasures from ancient Mesopotamian sites.

The immediate focus is on trying to recover what was stolen from the museum, but in the rare roadblocks still operated by American and British troops here, the search is for weapons, not for antiquities. The only success to date came when a unit of the Iraq National Congress stopped a truck and found a steel case containing 453 small objects taken from the museum.


"What happened to the Iraq museum is only the tip of the iceberg," said Jean-Marie Durand, a French archaeologist. "For years, the whole country has been looted. At Larsa, the site was turned over by a bulldozer. It looked like the moon."


The resulting traffic, in the main in small pieces that generally sell for hundreds, or at most a few thousand, dollars, is profitable because the cost of looting is minimal, and a large turnover is possible. Mesopotamian antiquities of greater value, on the other hand, are more likely to be noticed by museums or archaeologists if they are put on sale publicly at, say, auctions.

The antiquities dealer in my banner ad was advertising a cuneiform tablet and an Aramaic incantation bowl.

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