The Looting of the National Museum in Baghdad

national-museum-baghdad-gallery Wikimedia Commons

 

Image: The National Museum in Baghdad

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Archaeology Magazine has an interesting article written by Andrew Lawler on the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad.

When the looting occurred in 2003, looters set fire to some of the offices in the museum and stole more than 15,000 artifacts. Among the stolen artifacts were “iconic artifacts such as the Lady of Warka, a stone head of a woman found at Uruk, which is considered the world’s oldest city.”

Lawler said that museum officials tried to hide some artifacts in order to protect the most valuable items in the collection:

Had museum officials not hidden 8,366 of the most valuable artifacts in a safe place known only to them, this event might have been a catastrophe for cultural heritage in Iraq. For a while, no one knew for certain how much damage had been done; I was with a team of U.S. archaeologists who arrived to assess the situation. Most of the museum’s estimated 170,000 artifacts were eventually found to be safe. The rampage had earned front-page headlines across the world. It was entirely preventable.

Some 2,500 years earlier, the Persian king Cyrus the Great was able to storm nearby Babylon, then the world’s largest city, but texts from the time relate that there was no chaos or looting. However, in 2003, American troops failed to secure what was second on their own list, after the Central Bank, of important places to protect in the modern Iraqi capital. Archaeologists had visited the Pentagon prior to the invasion to provide military officials with detailed coordinates of all major Iraqi cultural heritage sites.

The looting of the museum was over less than 48 hours after it began on April 10, 2003. But it was only the start of a decade of disaster for Iraq’s cultural heritage, a heritage that includes the world’s first cities, empires, and writing system.

Today, the National Museum of Iraq is being renovated. New galleries and state-of-the-art climate control and security systems have been installed in order to protect the collection and avoid another incident of looting.

You can read the article in its entirety by visiting Archaeology online.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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