Mesopotamian Treasures

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview
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Mesopotamian Treasures


THE SOURCE: "Archaeological Sites in South Iraq Have Not Been Looted, Say Experts" by Martin Bailey, in The Art Newspaper, July 1, 2008.

RARELY HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE been so mistaken about a country as have been wrong on Iraq: Wrong about weapons of mass destruction. Wrong about mobile weapons labs. Wrong about the plundering of the National Museum. And now, wrong again about the ongoing destruction of the nation's most celebrated archaeological sites.

An international team of archaeologists helicoptered into eight of the country's ancient settlements this past June to check out reports of illegal digging. They found exactly zero evidence of looting, writes Martin Bailey, a correspondent for The Art Newspaper. Touching down for visits of between 40 minutes and two hours per excavation, they failed to find "a single recent dig hole." The archaeologists picked the sites to visit, surveyed the terrain, and were allowed to move freely around the areas under the armed protection of British guards.

The threat of looting was no small one. Among the excavations, the Iraq experts visited Ur, reputed birthplace of the Biblical patriarch Abraham, site of the best-preserved ancient ziggurat and location of a royal graveyard replete with gold and silver. They checked out Eridu, which contains 18 levels of building, the first possibly antedating the great flood recounted in ancient religious texts, and the last built a few years after the likely invention of writing.

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