So Much for the 'Looted Sites'
By MELIK KAYLAN
July 15, 2008; Page D9
A recent mission to Iraq headed by top archaeologists from the U.S. and U.K. who specialize in Mesopotamia found that, contrary to received wisdom, southern Iraq's most important historic sites -- eight of them -- had neither been seriously damaged nor looted after the American invasion. This, according to a report by staff writer Martin Bailey in the July issue of the Art Newspaper. The article has caused confusion, not to say consternation, among archaeologists and has been largely ignored by the mainstream press. Not surprising perhaps, since reports by experts blaming the U.S. for the postinvasion destruction of Iraq's heritage have been regular fixtures of the news.
Up to now, it had seemed a clear-cut case. It stood to reason that a chaotic land rich with artifacts would be easy to loot and plunder. Ergo, the accusations against the U.S., the de facto governing authority, had been taken on faith. No one had bothered to challenge the reports, the evidence or the logic, not least because many ancient sites were in hostile terrain and couldn't be double-checked. By implication, the U.S. had been blamed for that too: After all, the presiding authority is effectively responsible for allowing no-go areas to exist where such things can occur.
Yet, paradoxically, there always was thought to be enough evidence to adduce blame. "We believe that every major site in Southern Iraq is in serious danger," Donny George, the former head of the Baghdad Museum, was quoted as saying in the New York Times in 2003. A recent book by Lawrence Rothfield of the University of Chicago's Cultural Policy Institute carried the estimate that, every year, roughly 10% of Iraq's heritage was being destroyed.
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