Sunday, 9 November 2008

Iraq and Antiquities: Looking Back to 2003

It seems to be "fashionable" to be looking back to "old" news stories about Iraq ... so I had better warn you now that this comment looks back to 2003.

As the missiles started to fall on Baghdad, The Times (London) reported the fears for archaeological sites and objects in Iraq (Dalya Alberge, "War and its aftermath threaten Iraqi treasures", The Times, March 26, 2003).

Lord Renfrew was said to be "demanding to know whether a coalition of American collectors and curators is seeking to acquire Iraqi antiquities after the fall of President Saddam Hussein." This coalition was described as:

A group of wealthy and influential arts figures calling themselves the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP) is arguing that the legitimate dispersal of cultural material is one of the best ways to protect it. The coalition's members wield such influence that they secured a high-level meeting in January with US State and Defence Department officials, to the alarm of archaeologists.
The Times noted that members of the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP) included "Shelby White, a leading antiquities collector, as well as museum directors and curators". The claimed aim of the group was "to save the country's wealth of archaeological sites".

Renfrew asked the question:

What on earth are they doing seeking to meet with the US Defence Department at this sensitive time?

These collectors and curators want to be free to buy antiquities that come from archaeological sites and relax the export laws. They want the antiquities legislation of Iraq to be relaxed in the aftermath of war. If there's an intervention, there's a real risk of serious looting.
It looks as if Renfrew was right.

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