Sunday, December 04, 2011

Profile of State Department's Archaeologist in Afghanistan

Excellent profile of Laura Tedesco, who as the State Department's archaeologist in Afghanistan is doing even more dangerous duty than her colleagues in Iraq, the only other country, as the article notes, where the State Department has posted an archaeologist. It takes great courage and commitment to put one's body on the line as archaeologists in both countries have done, and they deserve our gratitude for that.

As a matter of policy, it is interesting to compare the approach taken in the two countries. In Iraq, the focus has been on redeveloping Babylon and restoring the Iraq Museum as heritage tourism destinations, with little attention paid to the massive destruction of other sites by looting or encroachment. In Afghanistan, in contrast, the focus has been on one extraordinary recently deiscovered archaeological site, at Mes Aynak, that is certain to be destroyed, even though it could in theory have become a major tourist attraction if it did not sit atop mineable natural resources worth far more than tourism could ever generate. Tedesco is coy about how much is being spent on salvaging what can be saved from Mes Aynak, but admits it runs into the millions. It is worth asking how much might have been saved from being destroyed by antiquities looters in Iraq if the policymakers at the State Department and in the Pentagon had recognized that there was an equivalent need to protect Iraq's threatened archaeological heritage, and not just to exploit the part of it that would generate tourist revenues.

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