This showed up on list serves yesterday, though Donnie George and Patty Gerstenblith have indicated on the IraqCrisis List that this is recycled news.
In any event, the item does suggest that the story of the looting of the museum was exaggerated. Just recently (and as reported on this blog), the Art Newspaper also suggested that stories about looting of archaeological sites were also exaggerated. Does anyone see a pattern here?:
Priceless Treasures Saved From Looters of Baghdad Museum
It is known as one of the worst episodes of the war in Iraq: one of the world's greatest archaeological collections ransacked while American troops stood by, unable or unwilling to act. But now a different picture is emerging of the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad. Only a few dozen significant pieces, not thousands as originally reported, were stolen. And many, a new investigation has found, may have gone missing long before the Americans arrived in the Iraqi capital.
US officials revealed yesterday that several of the most important pieces that were thought to have been stolen have now turned up safe. The world-famous treasure of Nimrud, an extraordinary series of priceless 4,500-year-old gold artifacts, has been found in a flooded vault under the Iraqi National Bank. Other key parts of the museum's collection, including tens of thousands of Greek and Roman gold and silver coins, have been found in strongrooms in the Baghdad museum itself. Staff there now say that only 33 major items and around 2,000 minor works have gone.
'The treasure was never lost,' Salman Faleh, the governor of the central bank, said yesterday. 'We knew all along that they were there. It just took a bit of time to get at them because of the flooding.'
US customs agents who helped with the recovery of the treasure said that when they first entered the vaults they found bodies of looters killed in shoot-outs with rival gangs. But the seals on the crates of treasure proved to be intact.
The truth about what happened at the museum will be revealed in a documentary, to be broadcast tonight on BBC2, by Dan Cruickshank, the architectural historian. Cruickshank, who visited Iraq shortly before the war, returned in the aftermath of the conflict. 'It is simply not true that the people of Baghdad looted their own museum,' Cruickshank told The Observer last week. 'They have far too much respect for their own heritage to do that.'
Instead, Cruickshank said the only buildings ransacked were the administration offices of the museum. Most of the senior officials running the museum were, as throughout all of Saddam Hussein's system of government, members of the Baath Party, Saddam's political vehicle. The museum itself was seen by many locals as part of the structure of the regime and attacked as a result.
But though damage was done to files and research work, most of the museum's collection escaped unscathed, Cruickshank said. The empty shelves in the museum's galleries were thought by the first journalists on the scene to have been stripped by looters. In fact, the collection had been carefully stored according to a plan drawn up d uring the Iran-Iraq war. Thousands of pieces were hidden in five secure rooms around the museum, in vaults in the central bank and in bunkers around Baghdad.
There is evidence of possible collusion between museum officials and thieves in the run-up to the war. 'The museum staff all say they locked up the museum and fled on 8 April and all deny having the keys to the strongrooms around the building where much of the most precious stuff was being stored,' said Cruickshank. 'But it is clear that at least one of the five storerooms was unlocked at some stage. Of course, no one admits opening it.' There are also suspicions that some of the best artifacts that are missing had been stolen and sold several years ago. Senior figures in the Baath Party regime, such as Saddam's eldest son Uday, are known to have made millions from the international trade in antiquities. Some American and European specialists believe that most of the 33 missing items were taken in the first few hours of the collapse of Saddam's regime and were stolen 'to order'.
Professor McGuire Gibson, an Oriental specialist from Chicago University and a member of the Unesco team investigating the thefts, said he had received reports that the 'top five' items among the 33 had been smuggled to Tehran and Paris within days of their removal.
The misplaced focus on the supposed looting of the Baghdad museum has meant that problems in much of the rest of the country are being ignored. Cruickshank spent two weeks in Iraq and found US soldiers and officials are focusing on restoring law, order and basic utilities in Iraq and have little resources to spare to protect archaeological sites.
Dan Cruickshank and the Raiders of the Lost Art is on BBC2 this evening at 9pm
By Guardian Unlimited © Copyright Guardian Newspapers 2008Published: 7/11/2008