Monday, December 15, 2008

News from Northern Iraq

This report caught my eye. It again pokes holes in the received wisdom that archaeological sites in Iraq were extensively looted in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. In particular, this report suggests (in the North of the country at least) that most damage occurred beforehand during the period of Baathist control over the country. It also suggests that neglect is now a greater problem than looting:

Department of State Niunewa Povincial Reconstruction Team Mosul, Iraq


NOV 29, 2008

First UNESCO Mission Since 2003 Examines Cultural Sites in Northern Iraq MOSUL, Iraq – A UNESCO fact-finding mission examined the overall condition of four key cultural heritage sites in Northern Iraq during November. The assessment team visited the Roman-Parthian city of Hatra, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1985. In addition, the team visited three sites significant under the Assyrian Empire: Ashur (Qal’at Sherqat), the first capital of the Assyrian Empire located in Salah ad Din Province, inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites andthe list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2003; Nimrud, considered the second capital of the Assyrian Empire; and the Ancient City of Nineveh, both listed on the Tentative List for World Heritage Sites. The team also visited the Mosul Cultural Museum, currently closed and in the process of renovation.

UNESCO representatives have not visited sites in Ninewa Province since 2003 and this mission found that many of the exposed antiquities are deteriorating due to a lack of conservation maintenance and site stewardship. The team documented only minor willful destruction, looting, or criminal activity at the sites. However, destruction and theft from the 80s and 90s were clearly evident at Ninevah where the Sennacherib Palace reliefs have been almost entirely removed by previous looters. Hatra and Nimrud showed less extensive evidence of theft and destruction but more severe signs of damage caused by water infiltration, erosion, and neglect. (emphasis added.)

Ms. Tamar Teneishvili, UNESCO Culture Program Specialist for Iraq was overwhelmed by the poor stateof conservation at Ninevah, but said the overall mission was incredible and provided a great opportunity to appraise the sites. Ms. Teneishvili and her colleague, Mr. Sami Al-Khoja, met with local Iraqis working on the sites, engaged with members of the Facilities Protection Service, and documented current conditions. They will compare results of their visit with those from previous UNESCO missions before publishing their findings.

UNESCO has pledged funds to repair two halls at the ruins of Nimrud and to assist the Mosul Cultural Museum with renovations, starting with the library and archives. UNESCO also committed resources tocomplete studies of the sites to identify the hydrologic conditions and plan future stone conservation projects and training. The Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ninewa will be requestingfunds to complement the UNESCO projects and will be working with the provincial government to commit funds to the conservation projects.

As of 2008, 878 sites are listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO and three are located in Iraq. Each World Heritage Site is the property of the state within whose territory the site is located,but it is considered in the interest of the international community to preserve the sites.
Suzanne E. Bott, PhD Provincial Reconstruction Team Ninewa Cultural Heritage Advisor DSN: 318-821-6148SVOIP: 318-243-0294/ 243-0366NIPR: SIPR:

Meanwhile over on the SafeCorner blog Larry Rothfield gives his perspective that the State Department is not doing enough to protect Iraqi archaeological sites. SafecCorner also kindly posted my comments:

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