Friday, July 04, 2008

No Looting In Iraq?

It all started with a story by Martin Bailey in The Art Newspaper, and it was really the headline as much as the actual story that drew fire. As reported by Mr. Bailey,
An international team of archaeologists which made an unpublicised visit to southern Iraq last month found no evidence of recent looting—contrary to long-expressed claims about sustained illegal digging at major sites.

Mr. Bailey did also mention that the archaeologists only visited eight major sites in southern Iraq: Ur, Ubaid, Eridu, Warka, Larsa, Tell el-Ouelli, Lagash and Tell el-Lahm. However, he also clearly expressed his view that the extent of looting has been exaggerated both by reporters and by archaeologists. A similar view has been even more directly expressed in a blog commentary by Dr. Dorothy King -
The false claim of looting - along with the claim that the US could have prevented the thefts from Baghdad Museum - has been a major part of the anti-War propaganda.
Whether pro- or anti-war, it is clear that propaganda and political advocacy do color our perception of the illegal digging and trade in antiquities which have occurred both before and after the United States deposed Saddam Hussein by military force. Issues about protection of cultural resources cannot be separated from political and military issues in Iraq and other countries of the Middle East. Archaeology and protection of cultural resources are deeply embedded within the ongoing political and religious conflicts.

Relying both upon her own inspection of aerial photographs and upon research by Dr. Elizabeth Stone, Dr. King supports the gist of the Bailey piece in concluding that most looting on the major sites occurred prior to the start of the current Iraq war. Opposing views on the issue are being expressed, however, by David Gill, Larry Rothfield, and a number of other scholars posting to the Iraq Crisis discussion list. A first hand account of looting in southern Iraq presented by the Director of Antiquities in Nasiriya Province, Dr. Abdulamir Hamdani, can be viewed online at Safe Corner.

What a blogstorm!

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At 7:10 PM , Blogger Larry Rothfield said...

Sorry, but I have to disagree with notion that we cannot separate out propaganda and political advocacy from our perception of the digging. I am doing my best to stick to the facts. Among the myriad who have reported major looting are the carabinieri and the Polish military, hardly anti-war propagandists.

At 8:44 PM , Blogger Don Thieme said...

You are doing a good job at that. When the motivation both for the looting and protection are at stake, however, that does become political as well as financial.


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