Monday, March 09, 2015

A trip down (bad) memory lane: recommendations from 2006 for military action to protect archaeological sites

Back in 2006, in response to the disastrous looting of Iraq's national museum and the consequent untrammeled looting of sites around the country over a period of years during and following the American occupation, I pulled together experts from the military, the Pentagon, the heritage conservation community, and the museum world to see if we could figure out what had gone wrong and develop some recommendations for steps that could be taken to do better in the future. We gathered our findings and recommendations in a published volume, Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War. A number of the recommendations were in fact adopted.

I thought I'd look back at the list of recommendations to see if any of them anticipated the need to deal with the problem we are seeing today at Nimrud and it appears Hatra. The answer (pp. 284-5) is yes:

During any transitional period, in the likely event that the antiquities ministry is unable to operate effectively without backup provided by a central authority, the military should take one or more of the following steps, after consultation with the antiquities ministry:
i. Preclude road access to selected sites by sowing the road with tire-puncturing tacks.
ii. If feasible, make a show of force at strategically selected sites, confiscating, disabling, or destroying a few of the vehicles used by potential looters as a deterrent to future potential looters.
vi. Create monitoring systems to identify sites under assault or threat of assault by looters.
It's too late for Nimrud, and probably for Hatra as well. One can only hope that now that Iraq's government is publicly begging for this kind of military action, our feckless leaders will lift their fingers enough to see that such tiny but crucial actions be undertaken.

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