Skip to main content

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.

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.

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

A fragmentary relief of Mithras was discovered in 1964 at Tor Cervara on the outskirts of Rome. It was acquired by the Museo Nazionale Romano.

A further fragment of the relief was acquired by the Badisches Landesmueum in Kalrsruhe in 1976. The source was an unstated Swiss dealer. This fragment has been reunited with the rest of the relief [press release].

Today a further fragment of the relief was reunited with the other pieces. This had been recovered during a raid in Sardinia.