THE CASUALTIES OF WAR: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE IRAQ MUSEUM
(BOSTON, Mass. 22 Aug. 2005) – The July 2005 issue of the American Journal of Archaeology presents an engaging report on the looting and recovery of artifacts from the Iraq Museum during Gulf War II. Written by Matthew Bogdanos, a colonel in the U.S. Marines, who has served in Iraq three times and who received a Bronze Star for counterterrorism in Afghanistan, it is the official published account of the antiquities rescue operation and corrects many inaccuracies that have been reported in the media (see http://www.ajaonline.org/archive/109.3/bogdanos_matthew.html).
The world reacted with shock and outrage at the pillaging of the Iraq Museum: it was a “crime against humanity,” a “tragedy that has no parallel in world history.” “It’s as if the Uffizi, the Louvre, or all the museums of Washington, D.C., had been wiped out in one fell swoop,” cried another. There was ample reason for gloom. The list of missing objects read like a “who’s who” of archaeology: the Sacred Vase of Warka, the world’s oldest known carved stone ritual vessel; the Mask of Warka, sometimes called the “Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia”; the Treasure of Nimrud, a collection of more than 1,000 pieces of gold jewelry from the eight and ninth centuries B.C. And so many more.
In the wake of the looting, the world was also vocal in its condemnation of the United States and the United Kingdom for failing to protect the museum. In April 2003, the international media reported that over 170,000 of the finest antiquities from the very cradle of civilization had been stolen while U.S. forces stood idle. In response, the U.S. dispatched a highly specialized multiagency task force to determine what had happened at the museum and to recover as many antiquities as possible. Colonel Bogdanos, who holds a master’s degree in Classics from Columbia University, headed the operation.
Among several startling discoveries were that the museum compound had been turned into a military fighting position, and that the initial reports of the number of looted artifacts were wrong. Although final inventories will take years to complete, the best current estimate is that approximately 15,000 pieces were stolen. The investigation also determined that the international black market in Iraqi antiquities continues to flourish. Working closely with Iraqis and using a complex methodology that includes community outreach, international cooperation, raids, seizures, and amnesty, the task force and others around the world have recovered more than 5,000 of the missing treasures.
The American Journal of Archaeology (http://www.ajaonline.org) is one of the world's most distinguished and widely distributed archaeological journals. Founded in 1885, it is the flagship publication of the Archaeological Institute of America (http://www.archaeological.org), the oldest and largest organization in North America devoted to the world of archaeology. The AJA continues to dedicate itself to the advancement of archaeological studies and to the promotion of interest in them. Its circulation reaches over 50 countries and almost 150 universities, learned societies, departments of antiquities, and museums. AJA is published quarterly in both print and electronic formats in January, April, July, and October.
Actually, I believe we've already mentioned that the current issue of AJA has quite a few items of interest for Classics types ....