Thursday, July 3, 2008

Iraq: "Chippindale's Law" and the Scale of Looting

Larry Rothfield has continued to post significant information through the day. In his latest posting, "Some Known Knowns and Known Unknowns about Extent of Site Looting", he discusses the work of Professor Elizabeth Stone in southern Iraq (published earlier this year).

I was very struck by this statement:
The [satellite] imagery she is working with reveals that the area destroyed by looters is roughly 50 times the size of the area dug by archaeologists, and this is only for southern Iraq.

Consider the numbers.

To put them into perspective, Gill and Chippindale suggested that some 85% of the archaeological record of the Early Bronze Age Cyclades had been destroyed through the search for marble Cycladic figures. And we thought that this was catastrophic.

But "Chippindale's Law" kicks in ...

If Stone is right, we may need to think in terms of 98% of the archaeological record of southern Iraq being lost for ever. Now this is a pessimistic figure (and I sincerely hope it is), and it does not take into account unknown and unexcavated (and unlooted) archaeological sites. But if we factor in future excavations in the same area, are we looking at 80% or 70% of the archaeological record being lost? This is a major cultural disaster.

And that is why the reporting by The Art Newspaper could be considered lacking in balance.

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