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Austin Cline

Looting History in Iraq

By May 4, 2005

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Iraq contains the cradle of civilization, but it's a cradle that is being robbed and destroyed. Iraqis are looting important sites in order to have enough money to eat. Americans have ruined sites in order to accommodate their heavy equipment. What has been lost or destroyed is priceless and irreplaceable.

The BBC reports:

More than 150 Sumerian cities dating back to the fourth millennium BC - such as Umma, Umm al-Akkareb, Larsa and Tello - lie destroyed, turned into crater-filled landscapes of shredded pottery and broken bricks. If properly excavated, these cities - covering an estimated 20 sq km - could help us learn about the development of the human race.

But the looters have destroyed ancient monuments, erasing the region's history in a tireless search for a cylinder seal, a sculpture or a cuneiform tablet that they can sell to a dealer for a few dollars. It is tough, poorly paid work carried out by jobless Iraqis with no way of earning a better income.

Coalition forces have themselves damaged archaeological sites by using them as military bases. The withdrawal of coalition troops from Babylon has revealed irreversible damage to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. An alarming report by the keeper of the British Museum's Near East department, Dr John Curtis, describes how areas in the middle of the archaeological site were levelled to create a landing area for helicopters and parking lots for heavy vehicles.

"US military vehicles crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavements, archaeological fragments were scattered across the site, more then 12 trenches were driven into ancient deposits and military earth-moving projects contaminated the site for future generations of scientists.

Nothing will change unless and until the Iraqi government takes definitive steps to crack down on both Iraqi looters and American forces. The material buried in Iraq could help us understand the development of human culture and we can't afford to lose any more of it.

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