The latest Iraq looting dramz

I’ve posted before about the extensive looting of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq since the US invasion.

The reports were picked up on some news channels and blogs, but it wasn’t until The Art Newspaper posted this that Fox News and the pro-war bloggers wrote a battery of stories on looting in Iraq.

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.

This topic sentence lit a fire under blogs I’ve never once seen mention Elizabeth Stone’s work or the Chicago exhibit on looting. According to them, the reports of looting were all a big lie meant to denigrate the valiant war effort, and those 8 unlooted sites visited proved it.

The rest of the Art Newspaper’s article explaining why those few sites out of many might not have been looted in a while didn’t make the same splash. Now the actual report is out, and Larry Rothfield has a handy summary of the context for each site.

A couple of examples:

3. Uruk: “There is no evidence of looting at the site which is protected by 15 SPF (Special Protection Force) personnel (one of whom arrived to check the presence of the inspection team) and an on-site guard (the German institutional system is able to maintain constant payments for the on-site guard).” The assessment team surely knew beforehand that this site was protected at this very high level, yet they chose to visit it anyway — just as they chose to visit Ur (which a British Museum team had visited a year earlier). [...]

5. Tallil airbase: one of the largest military airbases in the middle east, it contains two sites within its perimeter. Unsurprisingly, neither was looted.

Basically, the 8 sites are not exactly characteristic of all the archaeological sites in Iraq. Some of them are protected by coalition guards. Some of them are still hot, complete rocket craters. Some of them are surrounded by military installations.

Looters aren’t stupid, and trying to use this story to dismiss the reality of what has happened to the Cradle of Civilization is just good ol’ fashioned political expediency.

In fact, if anything the conditions at these sites indicates that what Elizabeth Stone and the other archaeologists who have reported on the looting were saying was true: if coalition forces made an effort to protect the sites as many of these 8 sites were, so much loss could have been prevented.

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16 Comments »

Comment by Clutch
2008-07-22 16:03:20

I think the fact that you call SPF 15 a “very high level” of protection in this day and age is a sign of your willingness to ignore the facts in denigrating the valiant war effort.

Comment by livius drusus
2008-07-22 21:38:47

Busted. :blush:

 
Comment by Anonymous
2008-07-28 12:00:25

Why are you willing the think the worst of our Military? Just accept the fact that this COULD be a farce set up by the liberal media!

Comment by livius drusus
2008-07-28 12:42:50

The evidence of widespread looting is solid. Have you read the reports of archaeologists? What makes you think archaeologists like Elizabeth Stone are intentionally lying?

They are scholars, not journalists, and they don’t get much coverage as it is, so I don’t see what “the liberal media” has to do with anything.

 
Comment by Forovid
2008-08-05 15:48:46

Is not only tour military. This happens in all the armies since the beginning of times.

Comment by livius drusus
2008-08-13 21:05:51

Indeed. Also, there were coalition forces who made a strong (and effective) effort to protect archaeological sites. The Italian Carabinieri, most notably.

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Comment by Andrea
2008-07-25 07:26:11

I believe that the archaeologists were taken to places where they could be relatively safe so naturally they only saw the sites with regular watch.
The problem is real but more thought should be given on how to examine it

Comment by livius drusus
2008-08-14 07:54:06

That’s right. I mean, I don’t think it says anything at all about the general state of affairs that the archaeological sites on coalition bases or guarded by nearby troops have not been looted.

Looters are easily scared away even by just the sound of policing (ie, by a photographer’s helicopter hovering above them).

 
 
Comment by Andrea
2008-07-29 08:22:49

Tried to find your contact info to suggest a blogrolls swap but failed.
If you can please contact me

 
Comment by John N.
2008-08-07 06:09:43

Hm, I seem to have discovered this great blog just as it went on hiatus… hope you’re just on vacation, and will be posting again soon!

Comment by livius drusus
2008-08-13 21:07:56

It was a mere computer-enforced absence. I’m back and in fine fettle, I’m glad to say.

Now you just have to come back and check. :D

Comment by John N.
2008-08-14 07:48:43

Been checking daily for new stuff, now happy as a clam and wallowing in all the new archaeoporn! (Hm… do clams wallow? Mixed metaphor…)

Comment by livius drusus
2008-08-14 07:51:24

I think clams would totally wallow. If they weren’t, you know, bivalves. :giggle:

I’m delighted you hadn’t given up on me yet. I assure you the archaeoporn will keep comin’.

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Comment by Mike M
2012-05-20 00:58:11

“I assure you the archaeoporn will keep comin’.”

What a pun! :lol:

Comment by livius drusus
2012-05-22 02:41:39

Entirely unwitting, I assure you. :shifty:

 
 
Comment by Mike M
2012-05-22 08:36:13

Which made it so funny. I didn’t think you noticed that when you typed it almost four years ago.

(Sorry for digging up old posts. This blog is a lot of fun. ;) )

 
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