IRAQ: Treasure Hunters Destroy Archaeological Sites
Treasure hunters and indiscriminate looters continue to tear into Iraqi
archaeological sites, stealing urns, statues, vases and other artifacts that
often date back more than 3,000 years to the Sumer and Babylonian
civilizations, the New York Times reports today.
At Isan Bakhriat, a remote site in the southern Iraqi desert, men armed with
shovels, knives and semi-automatic weapons are reportedly digging up
treasures with impunity.
"We believe that every major site in southern Iraq is in danger," said the
director of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, Donny George.
Iraq, which occupies what was once ancient Mesopotamia, has more than 10,000
registered archaeological sites. Experts said the sites most at risk are 15
to 20 major sites at the locations of ancient cities such as Larsa, Fara and
U.S. forces have been blamed for not doing enough to protect the sites. They
were sharply criticized after Iraq's National Museum and other archival
sites were looted at the end of the war. "We used to have guards," George
said, "but now they are either pushed away by looters or they are working
with thieves themselves in one way or another."
According to the Times, the current looting is reminiscent of widespread
plundering that took place after the 1991 Gulf War. Those raids were said to
be organized by outside gangs from neighboring countries, which would fence
the artifacts in Western art markets. After 1991, material from Iraq, which
had until then been rare, grew so prevalent that Iraqi artifacts are now
regularly advertised on eBay and can sell for less than $100, the Times
"They are poor people," said Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist who worked on
the site at Isan, of the looters, "but they do not understand what they are
doing" (Edmund Andrews, New York Times, May 23).