Google to put Iraqi Museum artifacts online

Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad, so brutally looted after the US invasion in 2003, is getting a boost into the 21st century thanks to Google. Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced in Baghdad that they would make virtual copies of all the artifacts in the museum at their own expense and put them online by early next year.

Ambassador Christopher R. Hill described the project as “part of an effort spearheaded by the State Department to bring technology to Iraq. We thought, what better way to do that than bring Eric Schmidt here?”[…]

Google chief Eric Schmidt, center, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, left, and Qais Rasheed, chairman of the state board of antiquities and heritage, rightJared Cohen, the State Department official who organized the visit, disputed a suggestion that the event seemed like a government-sponsored infomercial for Google. “This is a really good example of what we’re calling 21st-century statecraft,” he said. A dozen other companies are involved in the project to digitize the National Museum’s collections, so “it’s not an exclusive club,” he added.

The museum sort of re-opened in February of this year, but not really, because it wasn’t open to the public, just to a select few scholars and dignitaries and whatnot. Securing the extensive collection from the Cradle of Civilization has been an insurmountable obstacle to a full re-opening so far.

Digitizing the collection means people will finally really be able to see its full splendor, and not just what’s on display (only 8 of the 26 galleries have been restored), but the treasures in storage as they become available. Google has already taken 14,000 pictures, with many more to come.

Some of the collection has already been digitized by Italy’s National Research Center: The Virtual Museum of Iraq. That’s more of an overview, though, a greatest hits collection, if you will.

Google’s digitization will be done on site, which means you’ll get more of a tour feel than with the Italian site. Also, Google’s will be searchable and not Flash-dependent, a major bonus as far as I’m concerned.

I’m very much looking forward to getting to peruse 4000 years worth of history that has been out of reach for over 5 years.