Jun 11, 2007

Vanishing Heritage in the Cradle of Civilization


Things are looking increasingly grim in Iraq these days, with the US considering arming Sunni groups that once attacked coalition forces. Soon after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, western journalists visited the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad and reported incorrectly that 170,000 objects were stolen from the museum. More careful reporting soon accurately placed that number far lower, and current estimates seem to indicate that a still alarming 3,000 objects are still missing, with about 47 main exhibition artifacts missing.

Thus I always maintain a healthy bit of skepticism when articles come out detailing the loss of archaeological context and heritage in Iraq. The article last Friday by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian titled "In Iraq's four-year looting frenzy, the allies have become the vandals"even viewed skeptically reveals some very troubling things about the way archaeological sites are treated by coalition forces.

The catalyst for the discussion was a presentation by Abbas al-Hussaini, the head of Iraq's board of antiquities and heritage to the British Museum. He detailed a number of disturbing things. The former head of the antiquities board in Iraq, Donny George, left for a teaching position in New York, fearing for his life. Today the national museum "is not open but shut... Its doors are bricked up, it is surrounded by concrete walls and its exhibits are sandbagged. Even the staff cannot get inside." A 10th century caravenserai of Khan al-Raba was used to explode captured weapons. Looters are better armed than the Iraqi forces seeking to protect the ancient monuments. Two 4,000 year-old cities, Isin and Shurnpak, have been demolished by looting pits. The 11 teams Hussaini has organized travel the countryside attempting to retrieve any artifacts the looters have left behind. Even muslim sites are subject to destruction, with a number of bombings of mosques from the 10th and 11th centuries

When I was in Istanbul in May, I saw some of the glazed bricks from the Ishtar gate leading to Babylon, and they are stunning. The lion image above was very impressive. For me then perhaps the most disturbing claims detail the destruction taking place at the ancient city of Babylon:

Hussaini confirmed a report... on America's conversion of Nebuchadnezzar's great city of Babylon into the hanging gardens of Halliburton. This meant a 150-hectare camp for 2,000 troops. In the process the 2,500-year-old brick pavement to the Ishtar Gate was smashed by tanks and the gate itself damaged. The archaeology-rich subsoil was bulldozed to fill sandbags, and large areas covered in compacted gravel for helipads and car parks. Babylon is being rendered archaeologically barren.


Despite some unnecessary snarking by Jenkins here, the destruction at Babylon is a grave tragedy. He does conveniently overlook some facts though. The coalition forces only seem to be continuing the destruction and disdain Saddam Hussein had for the site when he was in power. This slide show taken by US Marine Gunnery Sergeant Daniel O'Connell in 2003 shows the ancient city, the unfortunate modern reconstruction by Hussein on top of the archaeological site, and the modern palace he built where marines first stayed. The colonel in charge of the site apologized last year, and UNESCO officials are even considering developing the place into a tourist attraction at some point.

It seems very unfortunate that coalition forces, in the face of the looting of so many sites, should have blundered so badly at Babylon, which is in one of the most secure regions of Iraq. The Geneva Convention dictates that forces should treat opposing cultural heritage with care. Also, though the US and UK have failed to implement the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict(because it might restrict their ability to use nuclear arms), they notionally abide by its tenets.

The US is doing a good job of policing its antiquities market, as a Fox News cameraman was arrested for smuggling Iraqi antiquities into the country recently. The UK also has legislation preventing the import of Iraqi antiquities. Jenkins gets a final jab in at the Department of Culture Media and Sport which seems far more concerned with the upcoming London Olympics than the illicit cultural property market. I wonder if the £400,000 recently spent on the unfortunate mascot would have been better served policing the antiquities market. The Met's Art and Antiquities squad has only 3 full time investigators, and is in jeopardy of further budget cuts. But only so much can be done when provenance or a title history is not routinely given during transactions. As long as the market is hidden from view, looters will continue to find purchasers for their ill-gotten gains.
Post a Comment

Labels

"Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth" (17) 1954 Hague Convention (12) 1972 World Heritage Convention (1) Aboriginal Heritage (1) Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 (SA) (2) act of state doctrine (1) Admiralty Law (11) Afghanistan (10) Africa (4) Albright-Knox Gallery (3) Aleppo (2) Alfred Stieglitz (2) Alternative Dispute Resolution (1) Angkor (1) Anti-Seizure Legislation (1) antiquites (3) antiquities (337) Antiquities Act 1906 (2) Antiquities leasing (10) antiquities looting (4) antiquities smuggling (3) antiquities theft (6) ARCA (8) ARCA Annual Conference (10) ARCA MA Program (6) Archaeological Resources Protection Act (5) Archival Recovery Team (ART) (3) Archives (1) Armed Conflict (22) Arrests (79) Art and Cultural Heritage Law (1) Art Beat Constables (9) Art Crime Statistics (1) art fraud (9) art history (1) Art Institute Chicago (3) art law (1) Art Loans (9) Art Loss Register (19) Art Market (10) Art Theft (262) Artist Resale Right (1) arts funding (1) Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) (8) Athens (3) Auction (99) austerity (2) Australia (7) Austria (3) Authentication (3) Babylon (3) Banksy (1) Big Bend National Park (1) bilateral agreements (2) Black Hills (1) Bolton Forgers (4) Book Theft (3) Brazil (5) British Museum (13) Bronze (5) Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth (1) Brueghel (1) Bruno Lohse (3) Brussels (1) Bührle Collection Theft (4) Bulgaria (4) Burke and Wills (2) Burns Mummies (1) Byzantine Artifacts (4) Cairo (1) Cairo art theft (2) California Raids (6) Caligula (1) Cambodia (11) Camille Pissarro (7) Carabinieri (6) Caravaggio (1) catalogue raisonné (1) Cellini Salt Cellar (2) Central Park (1) Cerveteri (1) Chance Finds (3) Charles Goldie (1) Chihuly Glass (1) China (15) Christie's (14) Church Thefts (6) Civil War (2) Claude Monet (4) Claudia Seger-Thomschitz (3) Cleveland Bronze Apollo (2) Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) (5) Coins (7) Colonial Art (1) Columbia (1) Conferences (7) Conservation (1) Conventions (1) Copyright (5) Corot (1) Corrections (1) cosmpoplitanism (4) Costa Rica (2) CPIA (10) criminal charges (5) criminology (1) Crystal Bridges Museum (5) Cultral Property Advisory Committee (9) Cultural First Aid (2) cultural heritage (6) cultural heritage careers (2) Cultural Heritage Moot Court Competition (2) Cultural heritage movement (1) cultural justice (3) cultural policy (18) cultural property (4) Cultural Resource Management (1) cultural security (1) culture funding (1) curatorial theft (2) Cycladic Figurines (1) Cyprus (9) Dahshour (1) Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) (2) Database (5) Databases (4) DCMS (2) Deaccessioning (24) Dead Sea Scrolls (1) Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 (4) Declaratory Suits (4) Demand and Refusal (2) Design and Artists Copyright Society (1) Detroit Institute of Art (1) development (1) Dick Ellis (2) Diplomatic Bags (1) Doctrine of Discovery (3) Donald Trump (3) Donny George Youkhanna (2) Dr. No (6) Droite de Suite (2) Dubai (1) due diligence (5) eBay (5) Economics (1) Ecuador (1) Edgar Degas (2) Edinburgh (1) Edoardo Almagia (1) Edvard Munch (2) Egon Schiele (4) Egypt (55) El-Hibeh (2) Elgin Marbles (5) empirical studies (1) England (4) environmental justice (4) Environmental law (2) Erik Nemeth (1) Etruscans (2) Euphronios Krater (4) European Court of Human Rights (1) Export Restrictions (19) Fakes (6) FBI (16) FBI Art Crime Team (16) Festivus (1) Fifth Circuit (1) fire (1) Fisk University (3) Footnotes (59) force multiplier (1) Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) (6) forfeiture (13) Forgery (27) fossils (2) Four Corners Antiquities Investigation (11) fractional ownership (2) Francavilla Marittima (1) France (30) Francesco Rutelli (15) Frans van Mieris (2) Frederick Schultz (3) freedman's town (2) Gaza (1) George Grosz (1) Georgia (1) Georgia O'Keeffe (2) Germanicus (2) Germany (16) Getty (1) Ghent Altarpiece (1) Giacomo Medici (6) Gianfranco Becchina (1) Golf (3) good faith (3) Goya (3) Goya theft (4) graffiti (1) Greece (38) Grosz (1) Henri Matisse (1) Henry Moore (1) Heritage at Risk (1) heritage crime (1) Heritage Crime in Art (1) Hermitage (2) High Court in London (4) historic documents (1) Historic Landmark (1) historic preservation (1) historic weapons (1) Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act (2) Hopi (1) House of Commons Illicit Trade Advisory Panel (ITAP) (1) Houston (2) Howard Spiegler (2) Human Remains (5) Human Rights (1) Hungary (1) Identification (1) illicit excavation (1) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (16) Immunity (6) Immunity from Seizure Act (ISA) (3) import restrictions (3) in the media (7) Indemnity (1) Indianapolis Museum of Art (5) indictments (5) Indigenous Rights (2) Indonesia (1) injunctions (1) Insider Theft (2) Institute d'Egypte (1) Institute of Art and Law (1) Institutional theft (1) Intellectual Property (4) Intentional Destruction (6) International Criminal Court (ICC) (1) International Journal of Cultural Property (1) internationalism (4) INTERPOL (1) Interview (2) Interviews (2) Iran (8) Iran v. Barakat Galleries Ltd. (6) Iran v. Berend (3) Iraq (46) Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum (7) Islamic art (2) Israel (4) Istanbul (2) Italian Art Squad (5) Italian Culture Ministry (6) Italy (122) Jacques Goudstikker (4) James Ossuary (1) Jan Breugel the elder (2) Jan van Eyck (1) Japan (3) Jeanneret v. Vichy (1) Jeff Tweedy (1) Jenack v. Rabizadeh (1) JMW Turner (2) John Constable (1) Jonah Marbles (1) Jonathan Tokeley-Parry (1) Jordan (2) Joseph Farquharson (2) Journal Articles (1) Journal of Art Crime (1) Ka-Nefer-Nefer (9) Kansas (2) Kansas City (1) Kazimir Malevich (3) Kenya (1) Kingsland (3) Klimt (3) Koh Ker (6) Konowaloff v. Metropolitan Museum of Art (1) Kunsthal Museum Theft (2) La Dea Di Morgantina (6) Lawrence Kaye (1) Lebanon (1) Leonardo Da Vinci (9) Leopold Museum (1) Lewis Chessmen (5) lex originis (3) lex situs (5) Libya (2) Lincoln's Inn theft (1) Lithographs (1) loans (5) London (6) London Art and Antiques Unit (7) London Metropolitan Police (2) loot (1) looting (30) Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (2) Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) (1) LS Lowry (3) Lucas Cranach (1) Lucas Cranach the Elder (3) Lucian Freud (1) Macedonia (1) Machu Picchu (12) Madonna of the Yarnwinder (recovery) (9) Mali (4) Malta (1) Manchester (2) manuscript (1) Maori (2) maps (2) Marc Chagall (1) Marion True (25) Mark Landis (1) market overt (1) Mausoleum at Helicarnassus (1) Max Stern (3) Maxwell Anderson (3) metal detecting (6) Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) (29) Mexico (9) Meyer de Haan (1) MFA Boston (6) Michael Brand (3) Michael C. Carlos Museum (1) Michael Steinhardt (2) Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities (MEGA) (1) Minneapolis Institue of Arts (MIA) (1) Moctezuma's Headdress (1) Modigliani (2) MoMA (4) Mondrian (1) Monet (3) Montreal Museum of Fine Art (2) Monument Men (5) Monuments Men (1) Moral Rights (3) Morgantina (2) Morgantina Aphrodite (9) Morgantina Treasure (1) Moscow (2) Musée d'Art Moderne theft (1) Museum Acquisitions (1) Museum Governance (1) Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (1) Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (6) museum security (2) museum theft (2) Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) (1) Music (2) Myth (1) Napoleon III (1) National Academy (2) National Archaeological Museum in Naples (1) National Archives (3) National Gallery (Washington) (1) National Historic Preservation Act (2) National Stolen Property Act (8) nations of origin (5) Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (8) Native Americans (17) native cultures (2) Nazi Spoliation (74) Neglect (1) Neil Brodie (1) Nelson-Atkins' Bloch Building (1) Netherlands (10) New Acropolis Museum (3) New Orleans (4) New York (6) New Zealand (7) Nigeria (1) nighthawking (3) Noah Charney (1) Norbert Schimmel (1) Norman Palmer (1) Norman Rockwell (2) Norway (4) NSPA (1) Nuclear Analytical Techniques (1) Odyssey Marine Exploration (23) Olympics (2) Omaha Nebraska (1) Organized Crime (1) Orphaned Works (2) Oskar Kokoschka (2) Oslo (1) Pablo Picasso (16) Pakistan (2) Palestine (3) Panama (1) Paolo Ferri (2) Paris (10) partage (1) Parthenon Marbles (17) Patents (1) Patty Gerstenblith (1) Paul Bator (2) Paul Cezanne (5) Paul Gauguin (4) Pazardzhik Byzantine Silver Hoard (1) Penn Museum (1) Pentagon (1) Pere Lachaise (1) Persepolis (3) Peru (24) Peru Headdress (1) Peter Watson (1) Philadelphia (7) Phillipines (1) Picasso (9) Pierre Le Guennec (1) Pierre Valentin (1) piracy (1) Pollock (1) Pompeii (3) Popular Culture (1) Portable Antiquities Scheme (25) Portrait of Wally (11) Poussin (1) pre-Columbian antiquities (2) pre-emptive archaeology (1) Prince Claus Fund (1) Princeton (4) Private Collectors (2) Private International Law (5) Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (UK) (1) Prosecutions (7) provenance (13) Prussia (1) Public Art Theft (5) Public Trust (1) Publications (2) Quran (1) Radio (2) Ransom (2) realkulturpolitik (1) recovery (45) Rembrandt (2) Rene Magritte (2) Renoir (2) Renvoi (3) repatriation (121) Restitution (40) reward (1) Rhodes (1) Robert Hecht (8) Robin Symes (1) Rodin (2) Roger Atwood (1) Roman Objects (2) Rome (3) Rothko (1) Royal Academy (1) Rubens (3) Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran (2) Russia (11) Sale of "The Cello Player" (1) Sale of the "Gross Clinic" (11) Sale of the Stieglitz Collection (4) Salvage (1) Sao Paulo (2) Sao Paulo Museum of Art (3) Scheduled Ancient Monuments (1) Scholarship - Articles and Essays (57) Scholarship - Book Reviews (3) Scholarship - Books (12) Scholarship - Case Notes (1) Scholarship - Events and Conferences (55) Scholarship - Journal Articles (12) Scholarship - Student Papers (16) Scotland (7) Scotland Yard's Arts and Antiques Squad (1) scrap metal (1) Sculpture (2) security (4) seizure (16) Selling stolen art (1) seminars (1) semiotics (1) Sentencing (2) Serbia (1) settlement (1) Sevso Treasure (6) Shelby White (3) shipwreck (1) Sicily (4) Simon Mackenzie (2) Sisley (4) Slovakia (1) Smithsonian (4) Solomon R. Guggenheim (1) Sonic Fingerprints (1) Sotheby's (13) Sotheby's Paris (1) South Africa (1) South America (1) Spain (21) Spoliation (2) Spoliation Advisory Panel (8) St. Louis Art Museum (8) St. Ninian's Isle Treasure (3) Stair Gallery (2) State Department (2) Statue of a Victorious Youth (1) statute of frauds (1) Statutes of Limitations (10) Stephane Breitwieser (1) Stephen Colbert (1) Steven Spielberg (1) stewardship (2) Stolen Art (11) Stone Age (1) street art (1) study collections (1) Summer Palace Bronzes (7) Sweden (2) Switzerland (13) Syria (7) Taliban (1) Tennessee (3) The Art Fund (1) The Bowers Museum (1) The Discovery Rule (4) the fourth ward (1) The Getty (57) The Gross Clinic (1) The Guggenheim (2) The Holocauset (stolen art) restitution bill (2) the Louvre (2) The Menil (4) The National Gallery (1) The National Gallery (London) (2) the Pirate Party (1) The Scream (1) theft (2) Thomas Eakins (9) Thomas Jefferson (1) Timbuktu (2) Titian (1) Toledo Museum of Art (4) tombaroli (2) tourism (1) transparency (1) Traprain Law (1) Traveling Exhibitions (2) Treasure Act (4) treasure trove (3) Turkey (11) UCC (1) Ukraine (2) UN (2) Underground Salt Museum (1) Underwater Cultural Heritage (32) Underwater Sites - "Black Swan" (3) Underwater Sites - "Blue Baron" (1) Underwater Sites - HMS Victory (3) UNESCO (23) UNESCO Convention (24) UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (9) UNIDROIT Convention (2) United Kingdom (24) United States (12) University College London (1) University of Chicago (1) University of Guelph (1) University of Virginia (3) urban development (1) Van Gogh (7) Vandalism (4) Vatican (1) Vermeer (2) Victoria And Albert Museum (3) Vigango (3) viking (1) Villa Giulia (3) Vineberg v. Bissonnette (4) Visual Artists Rights Act (2) voluntary returns (1) Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena (3) Watts Towers (1) Waverley Criteria (10) Week in Review (3) West Bank (1) wikiloot (1) Wilco (1) William S. Burroughs (1) Windsor Antiquities Indictment (1) World Heritage Sites (1) World War II (11) Yale University (13) year in review (2) Zahi Hawass (9)

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...