Skip to main content

Iraqi Cultural Heritage: "to protect and preserve"

The invasion of Iraq has had its consequences: humanitarian, social, political, and economic. (A flavour of the situation can be gained from the excellent Revolution Day: the Human Story of the Battle for Iraq [2004] by the former BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar.)

Looting Matters has tried to confine itself to issues of cultural property and archaeological ethics. Over Iraq I would endorse the British Museum's official statement (read again today), that there is,
a pressing need for action to protect and preserve the Iraqi cultural heritage.
The statement continues:
The problem is multi-faceted. It is not just about the looting of the major museums, particularly Baghdad and Mosul, but the destruction of libraries and archives, the damage to historic buildings, the extensive looting of archaeological sites, the illicit trade in antiquities, and now the undermining of the higher education system.
A recent report in The Art Newspaper has stirred up a hornets' nest. It is has been pointed out that the 8 sites discussed in AN are not representative of the whole of southern Iraq let alone the whole country. Larry Rothfield has now expanded ("Sites in Iraq Not Looted? Get Real!") on his earlier comments ("No Recent Looting on 8 Sites in southern Iraq: What does it show us? Not what the Art Newspaper thinks it does") about the evidence for looting in Iraq.

If we care about our universal cultural heritage ("cosmopolitanism" so beloved by some cultural property commentators) then it is worth giving some time to reflect on the state of damage to archaeological sites in Iraq. Culture matters.

Image © David Gill.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.