Sunday, 31 August 2008

Only "digging by children..."?

In a thought-provoking post in his blog Larry Rothfield provides several good reasons why he thinks that Martin Bailey’s latest story about Iraqi looting seized on with such alacrity by the dealers in and collectors of portable antiquities and their supporters should be treated with some reserve. He too is sceptical about the level of investigative journalism employed:
Given all this, and given the outrage that greeted his first article on the subject, Bailey should have at the very least asked around to find out whether there was any actual statistical evidence, in the form of satellite imagery, to corroborate Dr Abbas' happy news that looting is over. Had he done so, he might have learned that the Oriental Institute has purchased satellite images that offer incontrovertible evidence to the contrary”.
One phone call really is not sufficient to free collectors of this spectre. Rothfield goes on:

we do not know for certain what the degree or rate of looting has been for the entirety of the country. To determine that we would need to be able to compare, year by year, the satellite or aerial imagery for at least a representative sample of sites. Unfortunately, purchasing these images on the market would be prohibitively expensive; for just two sets of imagery for the single small site analyzed by Hritz, the cost was over $7000. As I have noted elsewhere, the US military undoubtedly possesses these images and could share them with researchers. Why the images are not being shared is a question that an enterprising reporter should be asking Pentagon or State Department officials.”
Perhaps not just journalists. Let us remember that the US military promised the scholarly community to work with them to help prevent damage to Iraq's heritage during the US-led operations. Perhaps this is a time for it to realise those assurances. Rothfield I think speaks for us all when he ends:

We all wish that the looting was over, just as we wish it were true that the looting of Iraq's sites had been limited to a brief period back in 2003-4, just as we wish the losses to the Iraq Museum had been insignificant. But wishing does not make it so.

An account of the survey by Carrie Hritz in Washington University, St Louis that Rothfield mentioned can be found here.

1 comment:

Paul Barford said...

Donny George has supplied some additional background information about Dr Abbas al-Husseini, the person supplying the information Martin Bailey bases his latest story on.

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