Tuesday, July 06, 2004[posted by jaed at 11:54 PM]
In the Middle East Quarterly, archaeologist Alexander Joffe revisits the looting of the Iraq National Museum (and the outraged narrative that followed in the press), using the events and their interpretation as a springboard to examine the relationship of archaeologists to the Baathist regime:
[...] archaeologists submitted paperwork to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, knowing full well that staff lists would be vetted by Iraqi intelligence. European and American Jews, among the pioneers of Mesopotamian archaeology during the first half of the twentieth century, were systematically excluded from participation, as they still are in Syria and Saudi Arabia. No one protested.It seems journalists and businessmen are not the only ones who may experience moral hazards as a result of trying to gain access to a country ruled by a totalitarian regime.
The teams did their fieldwork under the watchful eye of government minders, came back, kept their mouths shut about whatever they might have seen or heard, and not infrequently sang the praises of Hussein, at least his treatment of archaeology. Access was everything.
There's also an interesting historical parallel that I hadn't been aware of from the Gulf War:
As it happened, very little damage was done to archaeological sites by the U.S.-led war. The Iraq National Museum in Baghdad safely removed most of its holdings to storage within the building or to other locations such as bank vaults.(via Cronaca)
But in the aftermath of the local uprisings against Hussein in 1991, looters pillaged many provincial museums, and their contents quickly appeared on antiquities markets, primarily in Europe. Thousands of artifacts bled out of Iraq after 1991, and only a tiny handful have been recovered.