Protecting the Past

Article excerpt

THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES has launched an initiative to preserve and document cultural resources in Iraq's archives and museums. Up to $500,000 will be awarded in grants to support conservation and cataloging of Iraq's collections, digitization of objects relating to Iraq's cultural heritage, surveys of humanities resources and historical sites in Iraq, and preservation training for Iraqi nationals.

Proposals for the Special Opportunity-Iraq Cultural Heritage program will be accepted for all four council meetings; the Endowment expects to make its first grants in November. Information on the initiative can be found on the NEH website, www.neh.gov.

As of July, 10,471 items were still missing from the Iraq Museum, according to Science magazine. The missing items include artifacts from recent archaeological excavations and ancient cylinder seals that were in storage at the museum. One of the museum's prize possessions, the Warka vase, was returned in pieces after the looting. A full inventory of the museum's holding is still being made.

Important archaeological sites are also at risk. Three NEH grantees were part of a team that traveled to Iraq in May under the auspices of National Geographic to assess the damage to these sites. Their report says that "although U.S. bombs spared most sites and treasures, some ancient locations have been seriously damaged by recent lootings or long-term neglect." Iraq contains between twenty thousand and one hundred thousand ancient sites, including the vanished Babylon and Nineveh. "Very little archaeological work has been done in key parts of Iraq, so much of its history-the world's heritage - still lies in the ground," says the team's leader, archaeologist Henry T. Wright. "Protecting these places for future research at this very vulnerable time is crucial if we are to have any hope of understanding the fundamental processes that gave rise to the earliest civilizations. …

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