We are grateful to Paul Barford for highlighting this recent Editorial in The Hindu concerning the looting of 15,000 priceless artefacts from Iraq. Here is some of what it says, which makes sobering reading, to say the least.
The illegitimate war on Iraq has ravaged the country and severely eroded its capacity to manage not only its future but also the past. Despite timely cautions by archaeologists, the occupying troops irreparably damaged Iraq’s heritage, some of which is more than 2,500 years old. Within a few days of the forces entering Baghdad, the looters ransacked the National Museum and stole about 15,000 priceless artefacts. (This was reminiscent of the grievous loss of heritage in Kuwait following Saddam Hussein’s brutal invasion and occupation of 1990-91.) Post-invasion, the United States set up a military base atop the archaeological site of Babylon; the Polish troops dug trenches through an ancient temple; and American personnel damaged historic ruins to make way for a helipad. In the face of mounting criticism, the U.S. government tried to mend the situation by initiating the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project but its $13 million grant to the project is small change considering the loss inflicted.
Worst of all though, is this:
As the troops prepare to withdraw, the surviving parts of heritage stand exposed to further pillage. With a poorly funded and inadequately staffed antiquities police force (created in 2008) unable to offer adequate protection, illegal excavations and systematic looting of antiquities have resumed.
One can only be grateful that Britain’s involvement in those wretched hostilities and destruction has now ended (directly at least!). On the other hand, since we pulled our of Basra precisely three years ago in September 2007 our Artefact Erosion Counter suggests our home-based heroes have removed 870,000 artefacts (some of which, surely, would have been “culturally priceless”?) for fun or profit, mostly without reporting them to anyone!
Still, as a metal detector retailer informed Britain’s archaeologists on Britarch recently, without demur, our figures are based on nothing but presumptions and inaccuracies. So maybe that’s alright then.
On the other hand, one might reflect that in any “war” the first thing that is lost is Truth!