Friday 17 October 2008

US Money for Iraqi archaeology

Now its on its way out of power, and five years too late, the Bush administration has just (October 16, 2008) announced that it is putting resources into assisting Iraq in the conservation and preservation of its cultural heritage which suffered greatly under Sanctions and the US-led invasion. It has found thirteen million dollars for a programme of regeneration of Iraqi museums (good), creating a Conservation and Historic Preservation Institute in Arbil, northeast of Mosul, (good, but well away from the looted sites of southern Iraq), and a (separate?) programme to publish heretofore unpublished archaeological excavation reports prepared by Iraqi archaeologists; (good).

Larry Rothfield commenting on this announcement draws attention to the fact that it completely fails to address the problem of the looting of archaeological sites to produce collectables for the antiquities market. He asks “will the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project serve as a cover for washing our hands of the problem?”. Nasty pessimist that I am, I think that will be the case.

I think it will have a further effect. If Iraqi archaeology is a beneficiary of a 13 million buck handout from the US, individual archaeologists are going to be keen to work with the American administrators of these funds and might be wary of shouting too loudly about the destruction that past US measures have led to. As we know, the positions of those who ‘rock the boat’ over heritage issues is not always a comfortable one, and I can appreciate that many of my colleagues in Iraq might prefer to keep quiet when it may affect the chances of their project getting some of this money.

After all, don’t you know, the State Department is at pains to emphasise (a bit further down) “Since 2003, several million dollars have been applied to [...] improved archaeological site security in Iraq”. Yeah, right. We’d all love to hear more about this please. Maybe we could have access to the satellite imagery which would show this in progress?

Now let us see if the United Kingdom will make a similar offer. The Minister of Culture promised, but as I recall, all it sent in the end was a delegation to "look".

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