Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sites in Iraq Not Looted? Get Real!

As expected, the Art Newspaper article is spawning claims of massive looting of sites in Iraq are somehow a myth promulgated by the left or by disgruntled archaeologists.

That would have to include those anti-war, anti-Americans, the carabinieri who deployed to Iraq in 2003 (and left after a number of them were killed in action), who report in Antiquities Under Siege that

"Widespread looting had affected the whole region [the southwestern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar] after the collapse of the regime in 2003. As of early 2007, grave robbers still combed archaeological sites, hunting for gold jewels, gems, and cuneiform tablets..." "Since the beginning of the operations in Nasiriyah... 1,636 looted archaeological objects have been seized..."

Also mythical would have to be the 17,000 artifacts looted from unregistered archaeological sites that had been returned to the museum, as reported by Donny George in 2006.

And let's not forget those mythmakers, the Polish civil-military contingent posted to Al Qadisiyah province, who reported in March 2005 that aerial reconnaissance showed "continuous and methodical illicit digging that neither the Coalition troops entering Iraq nor the local antiquity service have been able to prevent."

Now it is true that all these reports are now dated. Time does go by, and one can always say that we do not know what has happened within the last year, last six months, etc. etc. But there can be no doubt that since the invasion many, many sites have been looted. Donny George's figure of 17,000 items returned is greater than the number stolen from the museum, and of course must be only a small fraction of the total looted since the invasion. John Russell has estimated, based on the number of hectares known to have been looted compared to those that yielded the 170,000 items in the Iraq Museum, that 400-600,000 artifacts have been taken illicitly. These are of course very rough estimates, but they give a sense of the scope of the looting.

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