Friday, September 27, 2019

Preserving Antiquities

The October discussion topic at Ethics Forum is the preservation of antiquities and the problem of iconoclasm. Stolen or destroyed artifacts and images represent a serious loss to scientific investigation.

The National Museum of Iraq was like a university containing thousands of artifacts and books. Researchers from many universities came to the museum to study the priceless volumes and artifacts. In 2003, the museum was looted. Books, research papers, and dictionaries of the oldest languages were burned. The objects of gold were stolen. Many artifacts of great historical value were destroyed or sold on the black market.

Most archaeological sites in Iraq were left unprotected by coalition forces between the summer of 2003 through the end of 2007. The first break-in at the museum occurred on 10 April 2003. While fighting continued outside, thieves had the run of the museum until returning museum staff chased them off on 12 April. Museum staff put up a large sign announcing that the museum was under the protection of the US military, though the first US tanks did not arrive until 16 April.

This 2550 BC gold dagger was stolen from the National Museum of Iraq and never recovered.

At least 3,138 objects were stolen from restoration and above-ground storage rooms. By January 2004, 3,037 had been recovered,1,924 via the amnesty program, and 1,113 through seizures.

The thieves knew in advance the location of the museum’s store of small, valuable, and portable items. They had keys to open the storage lockers, though in the darkness and confusion they dropped the keys and the lockers remained secure. Nevertheless, the thieves did steal 10,686 items that had been stored in boxes, including 5,144 cylinder seals. By January 2005, 2,307 of these pieces had been recovered.

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