Thursday 8 April 2010

Iraq Museum gained 32,000 artefacts in last 8 years

According to a report by Shaymaa Adel Azzaman (Iraq Museum retrieves 32,000 artifacts in 8 years, April 5, 2010), the Iraq Museum has gained 32,000 archaeologically significant artefacts in eight years since it was plundered shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. This is what Mohammed Talaqani the spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology said. Talaqani said it has now been established that 15,400 artifacts had been plundered from the Iraq Museum in 2003. So far despite every effort, only 4,200 of them have been recovered so far, leaving 11200 still missing.

Sadly however most of the newly accessed pieces have come from the results of recent illegal digging taking place on ancient sites across the country. The nearly 10,000 archaeological mounds in the country were subject to a spate of illegal digging - some of the most renowned ancient sites were looted to produce collectable items for sale, some of which were later removed from the country by smugglers. The looters and smugglers were aided by the upsurge in insecurity and mounting violence that followed the invasion which made it impossible for the antiquities department to guard all the archaeological sites scattered across this huge country. The finds were handed in under new regulations issued by the Antiquities Department under which Iraqis willing to return the artefacts in their possession would not be prosecuted but rewarded. The move persuaded many Iraqis to come forward with their artefacts.

Unfortunately all of these articles have only the loosest provenance. In getting them out of the ground vast areas of the archaeological sites were dug over, articles deemed less callectable were wrenched from their contexts and associations only to be immediately discarded. Although the recovered artefacts are no doubt very nice and maybe attractive to look at and would be "valuable" if sold on the open market, their archaeological value has been very severely reduced by the manner in which they were removed from archaeological sites, and the information value contained in those sites almost totally destroyed by the digging. The "recovery" of so many decontextualised artefacts like this is a hollow victory. "Rewarding finders" is the catchword of te collector, which is supposed to "stop the looting". It certainly has done nothing to stop it here, nor repair the damage it caused.

The largest haul of stolen artifacts has been returned to Iraq by Syria, Talaqani said. The Syrian authorities passed to Iraq more than 700 pieces recovered by their customs officers at border checkpoints. Jordan has returned to Iraq 466 pieces, the U.S. 1,046, Italy 34, Peru 3 and Sweden 1.

The Iraq museum now has two special halls where retrieved artefacts are exhibited. One of them holds the artifacts plundered from the original museum collection that were subsequently recovered. The other the artefacts collected through recent illegal digging and then handed to the museum.

Photos: Looting in Isin, southern Iraq.

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