April 09, 2008


A brief recap of foreign assistance during the last five sad years

At the occasion of the exhibition and symposium in Chicago (see next post), I received a request by a journalist to explain who all was involved in the efforts to salvage as much as possible of the archaeological heritage of Iraq. Needless to say, many parties outside Iraq have been involved. I here repeat with only minor alterations what I gave as an answer.

The U of Chicago Oriental Institute (Dr. McG. Gibson) did lend its considerable academic weight through participation in and initiating several approaches. You know of course Clemens Reichel's "Lost Treasures from Iraq" project which did a good job at first though later petered out. The latter was understandable to a certain extent as the continuation was costlier and more time consuming than the "low fruit" that was catalogued first, while at the same time some of the primary roles for the project had been fulfilled: providing a type collection online for police, customs, FBI, Interpol, military, etc. to compare probably looted artifacts against. It also was able to function as an educational tool for schools and so on. Even more important however has been the OI's continuing patronage of the Iraqcrisis mailing list, administered by the very capable and tenacious Chuck Jones (who continued in this role even after leaving the OI's employ).

Dr. Elizabeth Stone of Stonybrook University (NY) has also played a very important part, first by training and assisting Iraqi colleagues and then also by her project to study satellite photos in order to detect and analyze looting of sites in Iraq (see for instance this recent article).

The British Museum in London sent conservators to Baghdad in the beginning and has assisted Iraqi colleagues in many ways. Italian conservators esp. have also been very active, even on location in Baghdad through the years. They basically helped to get a working lab again at the Museum and assisted in the first steps toward fixing the Museum. The Italian military in Nasiriyyah were the only "Alliance" forces who took guarding the archaeological sites to heart. Drs. John Russell and Zainab Bahrani took time off from their university jobs to serve as cultural (i.e., heritage) adviser to the CPA/US Embassy in Iraq and conservator René Teijgeler from the Netherlands also tried to effect the gigantic military apparatus in Iraq to not cause even more damage.

The World Monument Fund/Getty Conservation Institute as well as the Global Heritage Fund organized archaeological site management and valorization training and support. Among the professional academic associations, the Archaeological Institute of America has been the most active and was particularly effective in getting far-reaching legislation passed in Congress to protect Iraq's heritage.

More on the public front, Cindy Ho's SAFE - Saving Antiquities For Everyone was actually formed in reaction to the events in Baghdad in 2003. They have tried to keep the issue of looting of and illegal trade in archaeological artifacts in the public mind. My own one-man initiative, "The Iraq War & Archaeology," served from the very beginning as the point of reference for all involved or interested in Iraq's heritage: academics, journalists, decision-makers, the general public. I gathered and annotated all available news till 2006. The archive is still available.

There were of course many more initiatives and commitments by a long list of institutions and organizations from many countries, too long to list here (see for instance on this page).


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