Celtic Studies Resources

40,000 Years of Human Endeavor Destroyed in Two Days

Teresa and Kip have said it better than I can. But I wanted to point to some more information about the tragic looting of Iraq’s National Museum, the world’s best collection, by far, of Mesopotamian artifacts. First of all, an enormous cultural loss for humanity could have been avoided, rather easily. It’s not like looting and collateral damage were new ideas; the art history and archaeological communities have discussed, written, and published their fears for quite a while. Even I posted about it.

Since 1922 Iraqi law mandated that Iraq has an equal share in any archaeological finds within Iraq. Most of those finds were in the National Museum. In fact, the majority of all archaeological finds made in the country since its foundation in 1920 were stored there. These include Iraq’s share of the royal burials of Ur, as well as thousands of unrecorded, un-imaged cuneiform tablets, with who knows what texts, laws, and records.

There’s a long history of archaeological piracy in Iraq, including sales on e-bay. In part this is encouraged by the embargo; people are selling anything they can for cash. So there’s already a system in place for fencing stolen archaeological treasures, those that survive after being looted.

And here’s what Rumsfeld has to say:

“The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’ ”

Rumsfeld’s attitude is barbaric, of course, as is his thinly veiled ethnocentrism. No, I’m not arguing that “stuff” is more important than human lives (though frankly, I know some scholars who would willingly sacrifice their own lives for a particular artifact’s life). But this tragedy could have been avoided, and it should have been. Rumsfield, Bush and their barbaric coeterie just didn’t care.