The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

FW: [iraq-discuss] Iraq's ancient Babylon bites the dust:

From: Katia Tiutiunnik <>
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


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.


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

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

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.


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."


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

  "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:
Manage your list participation:

This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
For removal from list, email
Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]