Report on Iraq inspection

Paul BarfordCommentaryLeave a Comment

The report of the recent Iraq inspection which was the subject of the Arts Newspaper and Wall Street Journal articles has now appeared on the British Museum website. It makes instructive reading in the contexct of the sensationalist journalism, and resolves a couple of questions raised by the articles.

I wonder whether it will be noticed by those in the portable antiquity collecting milieu who are now rhetorically asking whether the looting was a fiction? They seem to be basing their judgements on superficial news items culled from the Internet. In the past few days, despite the appearance of the full report of the mission, the number of Internet articles proclaiming that the “looting of sites never happened” or that “archaeologists misled the public” over this has proliferated quite noticeably. Obviously this is a far more attractive picture of events for some elements of the public than the brutal truth, that the degree of damage has been unacceptably high. These elements are misleading themselves however if they are failing to use the information that is in the public domain in the form of academic publications where the statements about what has been happening are substantiated and documented.

Perhaps in order to get a more rounded view, they might look at a number of publications that have been appearing, such as:

Geoff Emberling, Katharyn Hanson (eds) 2008, Catastrophe! the Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past (Oriental Institute Museum Publications) ISBN: 978-1-885923-56-1 [out of print and available online at: http://oi.uchicago.edu/pdf/oimp28.pdf ]

Lawrence Rothfield (2008) Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War, Barnes and Noble, ISBN-13: 9780759110991

Peter Stone & Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly (eds) 2008 ‘The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq’ Boydell and Brewer, ISBN 978 1 84383 384

Elizabeth C. Stone, “Patterns of looting in southern Iraq”, Antiquity, Vol. 82, No. 315, 2008, 125-38

then there’s a useful series of articles collected on SAFE’s ‘resources’ page

and others. Maybe it would be a useful task for us to compile a fuller academic bibliography (if one does not already exist somewhere) to counteract the growing “everything’s just fine really, the academics got it wrong” propaganda.

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Paul Barford is a British archaeologist living and working in Warsaw Poland. Since the early 1990s a primary interest has been research on artefact hunting and collecting and the market in portable antiquities in the international context.

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