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---------- From: Katia Tiutiunnik <Katia.Tiutiunnik@anu.edu.au> To: Iraqfirstname.lastname@example.org Subject: [iraq-discuss] Iraq's ancient Babylon bites the dust: Date: Mon, Sep 10, 2001, 2:12 am This article by Kevin Tibbles gives insight into the sad fate of part of Iraq's cultural heritage as a result of the ongoing war. "In a sense, it is a total war against the past.," says Professor John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art: "History is being erased, with no possibility of being recovered." Iraq's ancient Babylon bites the dust: Priceless artifacts go missing amid isolation and turmoil By Kevin Tibbles, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT BABYLON, Iraq, Feb. 19 - Within the borders of present-day Iraq, thousands of years before the West's showdown with Saddam Hussein stood the ancient civilization of Babylon. Once recounted in myths as the "birthplace of the modern world," Iraq's so-called "cradle of civilization" is now crumbling. ANCIENT BABYLON, a site of Biblical lore a couple hours south of Baghdad, is only one of more than 10,000 vital archeological sites in Iraq that have fallen into complete disrepair. Scientists for hundreds of years have made their way to modern-day Iraq's windswept deserts to dig in the sands for answers to modern civilization's most perplexing puzzles. It was a team of German archeologists in the late 1800s that uncovered much of Babylon's ancient palace and temples. The biblical Tower of Babel once stood here, and historians still seek the secrets of the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the ancient wonders of the world. "[Babylon] is where you have ... the first examples of writing, the first villages, the first wheel, the first boats," says Moyad Said, director of Baghdad's Iraqi Museum. Yet the 20th century turmoil that now engulfs this troubled region threatens to destroy Babylon's history forever. Sanctions imposed on President Saddam Hussein [sic] by the West now prevent scientists from visiting Iraq's treasured archeological sites. There is little money to preserve and protect priceless remains, so thousand-year-old structures sit abandoned. Clay bricks with 5,000-year-oldwedge-shaped "cuneiform" writing on them from the days of King Nebuchadnezzar, one of the most famous rulers of the ancient world, are strewn in the sand. LOOTING IN THE SAND But even more threatening to the history contained in these ancient sites are thieves and profiteers who steal, loot and smuggle the valuable artifacts out of the country to be sold to the highest bidder. "What seems to be happening in Iraq is unprecedented in any Middle Eastern country in modern times," says Professor John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art. "Namely, there is the wholesale looting of famous and undiscovered archeological sites." During the Gulf War, priceless Babylon artifacts were removed for safekeeping from the Iraqi Museum in Baghdad. The items have since disappeared, and display cases sit dark and empty. Prior to the Gulf War in the early 1990s, Russell helped excavate the ancient city of Ninevah in northern Iraq. He documented what he found. Recently, an Iraqi friend sent him photographs of the same site, showing that all of its priceless historical beauty had been stolen. "History isbeing erased, with no possibility of being recovered," Russell says. "In a sense, it is a total war against the past." Many of the sites being looted have never been studied by scientists, so when the goods are dug up and moved, the historical record is damaged. There will be no record of where the piece came from or its significance in relation to the area in which it was found. The Iraqis do not know what to do to combat the looting. They are a people at once proud of their history and devastated by what is taking place before them.The Iraqi Museum's Said is visibly upset as he takes me on a walking tour of his country's main museum in a now derelict Baghdad neighborhood. Row upon row of display cases sit empty gathering dust. The glass cabinets were emptied of their artifacts prior to the Gulf War for safekeeping during the Allied bombing campaign, and many of the historical pieces have simply vanished. He pauses next to a 3,000-year-old "winged bull" - a stone statue 10 feet in height. The bull has been cut into 11 chunks, its value virtually destroyed. "Who did this?" I ask. "This winged bull was cut up by the thieves," Said responds, pointing to deep cuts in the reassembled piece. "They used a mechanical saw to cut through here ... and here. They were in the process of smuggling it out the country bit by bit before they were caught." Said says the majority of smugglers get away scot-free over Iraq's porous borders. Iraqis are so poor that they have resorted to pick-pocketing their own history to survive, he says. A MARKET WITH WEALTHY COLLECTORS The priceless artifacts are not simply being scooped up and dumped onto a black market to be peddled in the antique and curio shops of Western Europe and North America. Nicholas Postgate of England's Cambridge University says the black market also includes unscrupulous dealers who pass the goods on to wealthy collectors for huge sums. "Sometimes it may be obvious to any reasonable person that the artifact must have been stolen," he says. "But because it can't be [proven] a dealer will say, 'Well, why should I worry?'" "[The artifacts] are gone, and are presumably in some collector's collection out of sight of the rest of the world," Postgate says. Said says he can only hope that by the time Iraq manages to reconcile itself with its Arab neighbors and the rest of the world, some of this country's glorious history will be left. "We, in effect, will never be able to study our past," he says. "Either the artifacts remain buried under the sands forever, or they will be buried in the private vaults of wealthy collectors. In the end, we may never see them again." http://www.leb.net/IAC/babylon.html -- =================================================== Katia Tiutiunnik Ph.D Candidate Room 637 Canberra School of Music National Institute of the Arts Australian National University Canberra ACT 0200 Australia Tel: +61 2 61255856 Fax: +61 2 62480997 http://www.amcoz.com.au/comp/t/ktiut.htm "I built a mighty moat-wall of brick and bitumen, and linked it to the moat-wall built by my father. I laid its foundations in the underworld. I made it as high as a mountain." --Nebuchadrezzar II. c.590 BC ------------------------------------------------------------------- This is the Iraq Discuss email list. Post to: email@example.com Manage your list participation: <http://www.nwjc.org.au/avcwl> -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://www.casi.org.uk