Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008
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.