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Looting in Iraq: Getting the Facts Straight

Yesterday Martin Bailey reported in the The Art Newspaper, "Archaeological sites in south Iraq have not been looted, say experts" (July 1, 2008).
An international team of archaeologists which made an unpublicised visit to southern Iraq last month found no evidence of recent looting—contrary to long-expressed claims about sustained illegal digging at major sites.
Larry Rothfield has now responded on Safe Corner ("No Recent Looting on 8 Sites in Southern Iraq: What does it show us? Not what the Art Newspaper thinks it does"; [mirror]). He points out that the archaeological team visited 8 out of some 10,000 registered sites (and there will be other unknown sites). Rothfield also includes comments from Donny George about why these 8 sites had not shown signs of looting.

These 8 locations do not form a representative selection of archaeological sites in Iraq.

Professor Elizabeth Stone, who was part of the visiting team, has been using satellite imaging to study the impact of looting elsewhere in Iraq. The findings were published in Antiquity earlier this year (Professor Elizabeth C. Stone, "Patterns of looting in southern Iraq", Antiquity, Vol. 82, No. 315, 2008, 125–38).

Rothfield rightly urges caution when it comes to announcing that the looting of archaeological sites is fiction. This has not stopped some cultural property observers starting to talk about "misinformation" that has been used to enforce restrictions on the import of antiquities. Indeed they overlooked the quote from Dr John Curtis of the British Museum:
It may not be typical of the country as a whole, and the situation could well be worse further north. [Emphasis mine]
Perhaps Martin Bailey and The Art Newspaper need to adopt a more responsible approach to reporting antiquities. A follow-up article is needed.

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