The Antiquities Trade and the Looting of Iraq


It has been called the worst cultural disaster to happen since the Second World War, and one archaeologist likened it to a “lobotomy of an entire culture.” [1] To the consternation of archaeologists throughout the world, the toppling of the Iraqi government unleashed a wave of looting and destruction of Iraq’s national patrimony.  Despite pleas for action from outraged scholars, the culturally blinkered Bush Administration belatedly only acted after media coverage had mushroomed into a public relations fiasco that threatened to upend the manufactured image of benign liberation.  Although the scale of loss from the looting of the National Museum in Baghdad was less serious than initially indicated, it was nevertheless a crippling blow, while elsewhere in Iraq the situation ran alarmingly out of control. 

After U.S. troops entered Baghdad on April 8, 2003, intense fighting broke out near the National Museum, prompting the staff to flee for safety. Two days later, looters firing AK-47s in the air approached the museum, which by then was only lightly protected by the few guards who had managed to return.  As one guard recalled, “Gangs of several dozen came.  Some had guns.  They threatened to kill us if we did not open up.”  Greatly outnumbered, the guards had no other recourse than to unlock the door and permit the mob to push its way inside, while more looters smashed their way in through a glass window. [2]

The crowd surged through the museum and engaged in opportunistic ransacking, at first seizing mostly furniture, computers and air conditioners. Meanwhile, well-organized professional thieves systematically looted the choice artifacts.  Staff members who attempted to intervene to protect the most valuable objects were told they would be killed if they persisted.  Witnesses reported seeing well-dressed men walking through the galleries and speaking into walkie-talkies and cellphones.  One museum official claimed that two “European-looking” men entered the museum, pointed out individual objects, and then left.  Artifacts were removed and hauled away in convoys of vans. “It is true that definitely some of the looters were very organized,” said archaeologist Francis Deblauwe. “They even brought equipment to lift some of the heavier pieces.  Also, glass cutters were found of a type that’s not readily available in Iraq.”  Gil Stein, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Chicago, said it appeared that unscrupulous art dealers had placed orders in advance.  “They were looking for very specific artifacts.  They knew where to look.” Claud-Peter Haase, Director of the Islamic Museum in Berlin, observed, “The people who did this knew precisely where the most priceless treasures were kept.  They sought out certain objects, tracking them down and zeroing in on them as though they had a shopping list and a floor plan of the museum.  It is also noteworthy just how these people were able to break into vaults and safes.  These people were professionals and definitely knew what they were doing.” [3]

In anticipation of this turn of events, the museum staff had taken the precaution of removing most of the objects from the public galleries for safekeeping prior to the invasion. All that remained were artifacts that were either too heavy or too fragile to move or those that were permanently fastened to pedestals.  Other objects were left in the museum simply because time ran out.  In all, looters took 42 of the objects left in the public galleries and vandalized many others.  A terra cotta statue of a lion and a statue of a woman from Hatra both suffered attempted beheadings by blunt instruments.  The Harp of Ur was broken and stripped of its gold.  Statues were decapitated and their bodies struck by heavy blows.  “They were too heavy to move to the basement and stood there until the vandals came and laid into them with iron bars,” recalled museum archaeologist Raeed Abdul Reda.  Thieves stole the famed Warka Vase, widely considered one of the museum’s most valuable possessions.  Also taken were the prized Bassetki Statue, dating from 2300 BCE, a Sumerian marble head of a woman from Warka, a full-sized statue of King Entemena from Ur, an ivory relief of the Assyrian god Ashu, and busts of Apollo, Poseidon, Nike, and Eros.   Archaeologist Selma al-Radi reported that although a lot of the artifacts looted were “fairly ordinary,” some of the “top objects of the museum” were also taken, and “it seems almost like a wish list of collectors; ‘if you get in there, get me this, this, and the other.’  They were the top objects.” [4]

Thieves entered five of the museum’s eight storage areas located on the lower level. There they found the Old Magazine, which held objects unearthed at excavations the year before and registered but not yet filed away. In their haste to find objects that would fetch a high price on the art market, thieves emptied boxes of artifacts onto the floor.  Looters took everything they could lay their hands on, including replicas, sweeping with their arms objects from shelves and into bags.  Meanwhile, professional thieves forced their way into the basement rooms by using crowbars to pry open the thick doors of the storerooms.  Approaching an unused and walled-up doorway, looters forced open the metal door, knocked a hole at the top of the blocking wall, and clambered inside.  The basement area was windowless, so small piles of foam packing material were set afire to provide light.  In one basement room, thieves cleaned out the entire collection of nearly 4,800 cylinder seals, as well as a variety of jewelry and other small objects.  Esteemed by collectors, cylinder seals are highly marketable.  Cylinder seals are small cylindrical objects usually made of stone but also sometimes from other materials, carved with a design or pictures.  When rolled onto clay surfaces such as freshly formed jars, boxes, and tablets, they create a continuous pattern in relief.  The coin collection was locked in cabinets, but looters managed to locate the keys which had been hidden elsewhere in the museum.  Only a fortuitous accident prevented the loss of the coin collection when the keys were dropped, and the looters were unable to locate them in the dark amid the ankle-deep debris of discarded objects and boxes on the floor.

Museum Research Director Donny George characterized the scene in the storerooms “as though a hurricane has blown through there. They are a terrible mess.”  The conservation lab comprised several rooms and was essential for the preservation of artifacts.  An archaeologist who visited the conservation facility after the looting reported, “All of it has been trashed by looters.  Chemicals were stolen or dumped on the floor and portable equipment, such as microscopes, was stolen.  The only equipment remaining is a scanning electron microscope that doesn’t work and four kilns for firing tablets.” [5]

The looting went on for three days, the thieves hauling away their booty in cars and trucks. It ended only on April 12 when the staff returned to the museum, chased out looters and posted a sign saying that American troops were in the museum and would shoot anyone who entered.  It was a bluff, but one that held swirling mobs at bay for a few days.

The National Museum was not the sole target of looting, as office buildings and libraries throughout Baghdad were plundered. Just days after the first looters entered the National Museum, both the National Library and Archives and the Library of Korans were looted and then set afire. Almost the entire collection of 12 million volumes at the National Library and Archives perished in the conflagration.  Despite an outcry from scholars from around the world and damning media coverage, days passed while apathetic U.S. officials failed to take any measures whatsoever to safeguard the museum.  In a press conference on April 11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed concerns with a curt, “Stuff happens!  But in terms of what’s going on in that country, it is a fundamental misunderstanding to see those images over, and over, and over again of some boy walking out with a vase and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, you didn’t have a plan.’  That’s nonsense.”  Rumsfeld was correct.  The Pentagon did have a plan, for U.S. troops had immediately set up guard around the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, which held intelligence records that occupation authorities were anxious to gain access to, and the Ministry of Oil.  Protection of the latter building was important because of the role it was expected to play when U.S. and British officials would get around to doing some looting of their own on behalf of Western corporate interests.  No provision was made for safeguarding the National Museum because no importance was attached to it. [6]

Throughout the crisis, museum staff and journalists in Baghdad repeatedly urged American tank crews to go and protect the building, but to no avail. Invariably they were told by soldiers that they had no orders to do so.  Only once did a tank crew drive to the museum and chase away looters.  Half an hour after the tank was gone, looters were again swarming through the museum.  It took nearly one full week after the first day of looting before a tank platoon was finally dispatched to guard the National Museum, allaying fears that the museum would be torched.

For the Bush Administration, the artifacts stored at the National Museum had no discernible value, for there was nothing there that concerned Western corporate investors. Uncomprehending American officials were baffled that anyone would care so much about anything so inessential as archaeology and art, and expected the outcry to fade within a day or two.  “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase,” scoffed Rumsfeld, “and you think, ‘My goodness, were there that many vases?  Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?”

Only when it became evident that the matter was turning into a public relations fiasco were U.S. officials prodded out of their callous disregard and lethargy. “Many people have indeed expressed the opinion that this U.S. Administration is too much influenced by business interests and by utilitarian ways of thinking,” commented archaeologist Francis Deblauwe.  “Considering the public relations debacle that ensued from the looting of the museum, I would think that if they could do it over, they definitely would protect the museum.  The fact that they didn’t consider this in advance to be an important factor does seem to indicate the narrowness of their horizon.” [7]

Initial estimates grossly exaggerated the extent of loss based upon a misunderstanding. The museum owned slightly more than half a million separate objects, inventoried as 170,000 entries.  Reporters misinterpreted the latter figure as the number of items that were stolen.  In a backlash against this error, conservative columnists and reporters dramatically downplayed the loss in an effort to bury concern, mentioning only the total number of artifacts missing from the public galleries.  The loss of those objects alone constituted a catastrophe for the museum, as it would for any institution to lose 42 of its most precious exhibits.  However, the other, less spectacular, looted items represented a significant deprivation for the historical record. The total extent of the loss may never be precisely determined, but it is known that more than 13,500 objects were taken.  Furthermore, a great many objects were damaged and will require restoration.   Francis Deblauwe estimated that “about four percent of the collection may need expert care.” [8]

In an endeavor to further minimize responsibility and deflect blame, U.S. officials repeatedly charged that the most serious losses during the looting came as a result of an “inside job.” It was broadly hinted that since the keys used by the looters had been hidden, they could only have been accessible to the staff.  Yet hundreds of looters had three days of unimpeded access to the museum, allowing ample time to search for keys.  Archaeologist McGuire Gibson, who is familiar with the National Museum, notes that the thieves “did not find the cuneiform tablet collection.”  These tablets are “highly prized by collectors and would have been a prime target.”  The cuneiform tablets were initially housed in the basement storage area, Gibson added, “but had been moved some years before because the humidity was not good for them.  The fact that the thieves did not know of the new storeroom for the tablets and did not know of the safe storage facility with the prime artifacts that had been taken off display argues against allegations in some media that the museum staff was involved in the looting.  No foreign scholar who has done research in the museum believes any of the allegations against the present staff.” [9]

To be sure, matters could have been worse. Precautions to secure museum collections were implemented across Iraq during the five months immediately preceding the war.  Larger and heavier objects, which could not be readily transported, posed a risk of falling as a result of the shock from explosions.  Nawali Mettwali, Director of the National Museum, said that an effort was made to deaden shocks “by covering the floor of the museum with sand and by encasing the masterpieces in sandbags.”  Throughout Baghdad, “UNESCO” was painted on the rooftops of museums, although one wonders whether pilots would have recognized the significance of the acronym. [10]

Moreover, the bulk of the National Museum’s collection was moved offsite in anticipation of looting. The entire public display collection, aside from the aforementioned objects, was deposited in a hidden vault at a location not disclosed until several weeks after the war.  In all, 8,366 pieces from the public galleries were rescued in this manner.  Twenty-one boxes holding over 6,700 gold objects were stored years beforehand in vaults at the National Bank, and an additional five boxes containing gold from Nimrud as well as the golden bull’s head from the Golden Harp of Ur were hidden there since 1990.  But U.S. bombs destroyed the National Bank, causing the vaults to fill with water.  It took three weeks to pump out the water, but once the rubble was removed from the stairway and the vaults opened, the assemblage of antiquities was found to be unharmed.   The entire collection of ancient and Islamic manuscripts, stored in 337 boxes, was deposited in a bomb shelter in western Baghdad.  After the end of the war, residents opposed the return of the collection to the museum, and U.S. occupation troops acquiesced to their demands by permitting the collection to remain under local watch. [11]

In an effort to reverse the tide of criticism, Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos was tasked with leading an investigation into the looting of the National Museum. By October 2003, 11 of the 42 artifacts taken from the public galleries had been recovered, as were most of the missing items from the storage rooms.  Once the situation at the museum was stabilized, local residents began to return artifacts.  “Some were significant,” reported archaeologist McGuire Gibson, “including massive statues and metal work, but many were unfortunately reproductions, museum shop replicas, fakes that the museum had stored in a special cabinet, and similar items.”  Dr. John Russell, conducting an inventory of the museum for UNESCO, found that the majority of objects returned “were forgeries and reproductions.”

There was noticeably less success in recovering artifacts stolen from the basement, and only about 650 out of more than 10,300 turned up during the same period, in all cases outside the borders of Iraq. For the most part, these objects were highly marketable, and the low recovery rate points to the involvement of professional thieves.  Some artifacts were recovered during raids conducted by occupation troops, while others were discovered during searches at customs checks.  But most of the recovered pieces were returned by looters, and many local residents removed artifacts during the looting only in order to prevent them falling into the hands of thieves.  In September 2003, U.S. Military Police and Iraqi police retrieved the Warka Mask, considered one of the most significant objects lost in the looting.  Two months later, another raid netted both the Bassetki statue and the Nimrud brazier, leaving 29 of the top items from the public galleries still missing.

The subject quickly faded from public consciousness once it became apparent that the total number of looted objects fell well short of initial estimates. Aside from the occasional story relating the successful recovery of artifacts, the matter was no longer considered newsworthy.  Predictably, waning public interest engendered a corresponding lack of motivation in U.S. officials for pursuing the investigation.  No replacement was named to succeed Col. Bogdanos in leading the investigation when his tour of duty ended in November 2003.  Strikingly, this failed to elicit any reaction from the press.  Shortly after the end of his assignment, Bogdanos expressed his thoughts about the future of the endeavor.  “My biggest concern is that with time, as this fades from view, other missions will drain resources away from this investigation.  The investigation will go on for years.  But no one expects it to get the same level of attention five years from now that it is getting now.  I just don’t want it to die, to wither on the vine.”  In fact, it did worse than that. [12]

The plundering of the National Museum was the most publicly visible manifestation of the flourishing trade in illicit antiquities and the debate raging around the issue, pitting archaeologists and scholars on one side against wealthy collectors and dealers on the other. In a sense, the controversy mirrored that of the occupation of Iraq.  Does the oil belong to the people of Iraq, or should management and ownership of Iraqi oil firms be taken over by Western corporations?  Should Iraqi companies rebuild the war-ravaged infrastructure or should Western corporations be given the opportunity to rake huge profits from that endeavor?  Do state-owned enterprises belong to the people of Iraq or should they be handed over to Western corporate investors at bargain-basement prices?  Not surprisingly, there are those who would also argue that the distribution and ownership of antiquities ought to be subject to the free market.

Looted and illegally excavated antiquities wend their way to galleries, mail-order catalogues, auction houses, and Internet sites. Fueling the trade are speculators searching for potentially lucrative investments and collectors with a penchant for ancient art.  Most artifacts sold by dealers are listed as having an unknown provenance, a fairly reliable indication of illicit origin.  One study estimated that between 65 to 90 percent of antiquities made available on the London auction market lack a published provenance, and many in the field put that figure at the higher end of the range.  Kathryn Tubb of the Institute of Archaeology at the University College of London said, “It’s commonly accepted by those of us who work in the field that 80 percent to 90 percent of the material on the market is illegal.”  Illicitly excavated artifacts tend to pass through several dealers before being offered for sale to the public, and most of the vendors involved in these transactions are shielded by a trade policy that encourages anonymity.  Inevitably, the process ensures that the provenance of a given work is nearly impossible to identify.  Once on the market, it generally cannot be established with any degree of certainty whether an object is licit or illicit, and the tendency is to regard all works as legitimate without concrete proof to the contrary.  “It’s a dirty business, the antiquities trade,” says Jane Waldbaum, president of the Archaeological Institute of America. “They will say they only buy from reputable dealers.  But where do they buy things from?” [13]

Commerce in antiquities has proven to be so profitable a venture that it has spawned worldwide looting and cultural destruction on an unimaginable scale.   Estimates vary, but the yearly trade in illicit antiquities may amount to nearly 6 billion dollars, and some place it as the third largest criminal enterprise.  In many cases, the trade in antiquities is closely intertwined with that of the drug trade.  It is primarily the middlemen who profit from the antiquities trade.  According to one study, investigations into illegal trading cases revealed that “over 98 percent of the final price was destined to end up in the pockets of the middlemen; the original finder received very little.”

Mayan ceramics, for example, net looters anywhere from $200 to $500 apiece, yet bring dealers as much as $100,000 on the market. The Morgantina acroliths, illegally excavated in 1979, earned the looters slightly more than $1,000.  One year later, they were sold by Swiss dealer Robin Symes for over $1 million.  In another striking example, Turkish peasant Ahmet Ali Senturk unearthed a jar filled with ancient Athenian coins, earning him the princely sum of $80 and a year in jail.  Told that a dealer eventually sold the same coins for approximately $3 million, Senturk ruefully concluded, “After that, if it was the same experience, I would leave them in the ground.  I wouldn’t touch it.”

An Italian clandestine tomb robber expressed conflicted feelings that may not be so unusual in his profession. “It makes me sad that our heritage, our Italian history is disappearing like this,” he lamented.  “But there’s no alternative for me or for my men.  We work to put food on the table for our families.  I know I’m stealing from the state, but I don’t know anyone who does this job who is rich.  We are all unemployed.”  Wealthy dealers and collectors, who reap all the benefits, have no such excuse, and it is they who are driving this dirty trade.  As archaeologist Ricardo Elia at Boston University pointed out, “Collectors are the real looters.” [14]

From the standpoint of collectors and dealers, an artifact has value first as a commodity or investment and secondly for its artistic value. For archaeologists, an artifact found in context may impart much information about life in the society of its origin.  Context is everything when it comes to antiquities.  Where an object is found, in what layer, what other objects are found along with it, all matter.  “The context of where something is found and in association with what, all of that information, is the primary and almost sole way to learn about many ancient cultures of the world,” notes Ricardo Elia.  Cuneiform tablets found on location may reveal the purpose of rooms and the location of offices.  A tablet may disclose information in the context of other tablets that would be meaningless on its own.  Trade patterns can be revealed by the locations in which objects are found, and chemical analysis of pots and jars may provide information about diet and trade.  That information would be lost from an illegally excavated object, with an undisclosed provenance and cleansed of residue to enhance its market price. “When you see things outside their historical context,” remarks Prof. Samuel Paley of State University of New York at Buffalo, “you can’t do much except date them and appreciate their beauty.” An artifact that lacks provenance is an object stripped of its associations and therefore its scientific and historical value.  It is an object that has been reduced to a mere commodity to be traded, an expression of the free market philosophy of private ownership quashing the public good. [15]

Dealers and collectors argue that the trade in antiquities promotes an appreciation of culture. “We believe that legitimate dispersal of cultural material through the market is one of the best ways to protect it,” asserts Ashton Hawkins, president of the American Council for Cultural Policy, an advocacy group for collectors and dealers.  “We’re interested in the protection of culture as much as the protection of legitimate collecting.”  Left unsaid is that this “dispersal” is decidedly a one-way road.  The flow of artifacts in the antiquities market is entirely in a direction leading from poor to rich nations.  Objects pass from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America to North America and Western Europe.  There is no meaningful trade passing in the other direction.  “Isn’t there a dimension to art that is much more worthwhile than the pursuit of context?” argues George Ortiz, an antiquities collector.  The “appreciation of culture” of which collectors and dealers speak is limited to the privacy of the home, and each object purchased on the market is a work denied to humanity for enjoyment and to archaeologists for study.  Furthermore, this trade is inherently destructive, not only in terms of the contextual information that is lost, but also in a very real physical sense.  By its very nature, this trade transforms cultural and archaeological artifacts into commodities, thereby encouraging looting and the wholesale destruction of archaeological sites through illegal excavations. [16]

The flourishing antiquities trade reaps a bitter harvest. In Cambodia, the sheer size of the sprawling 400-square kilometer site of Angkor Wat has allowed thieves to elude detection and capture as they routinely slice away sculptures with diamond saws.  In one incident in 1993, an organized gang of 300 bandits used hand grenades to blow open the door to the Angkor Conservation compound, and then the door to the main warehouse was blasted open with a rocket launcher, after which the gang looted ten statues.  The fate of the twelfth-century Cambodian temple of Banteay Chmar, near the Thai border, is particularly distressing.  Thai archaeologist Rachanie Thosarat claims that its “breathtaking” walls were once “covered in wonderful bas-reliefs.”  Many of these have now been sawn off and hauled away by thieves, and Thosarat reports that the temple is now “gutted.”  One Bangkok dealer was even offering collectors a “loot-to-order” service for sculptures from the temple, and in one raid alone, thieves chain-sawed off so many bas-reliefs that the walls of the temple are now in danger of collapse.

Destruction is widespread. Archaeologists visiting Beng Mealea, Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, and Koh Ker, report ongoing looting “on a virtually industrial scale.”  Thosarat recalls, “While we were excavating at Phum Snay we heard of another site recently discovered which was already being destroyed.  There will be many more, and it seems that the chances of any being left intact are virtually nil.  When this destruction was reported in the Phnom Penh press, it only encouraged collectors to turn up and buy directly from the villagers.  Some young Americans came to buy, and probably wanted to make a profit on their return to the USA.” In her native Thailand, Thosarat reports, “the continuing destruction of prehistoric sites is a cultural catastrophe that is in the process of making it virtually impossible to investigate the Neolithic and Bronze Age properly.  The Iron Age sites are so large that it will take some time before they too are brought to the brink of extinction.”  On the Bangkok Plain, “whole sites are sluiced for beads and other small items – they are for sale by the buckets full in Bangkok shops.  The number of looted graves is beyond imagination.”

Colin Renfrew, director of the McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, explains, “Vandalism is widespread in the service of the antiquities trade. Every Khmer head in the sale room or private collection implies a headless statue somewhere in Cambodia or beyond.”  As one study so aptly put it, “Paradoxically, at the remote site of Banteay Srei, described as a ‘jewel of Khmer art,’ the faces have been hacked away from most of the outstanding carvings to supply collectors who argue they appreciate art.” [17]

In Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, Mayan monuments began to be carved off and hauled away during the 1960s and in the next decade, thieves took to looting graves as well. It is estimated that about one thousand pieces of pottery, having a total value of $10 million, are looted from Central America each month.   According to Peruvian specialist Walter Alva, photographic analysis determined that in his country “more archaeological evidence was pillaged and destroyed in the last fifty years of the twentieth century than in the preceding four centuries.  The intensity and extension of looting is related directly to demand and to the nature of the looted materials.”  In one example, “the archaeology of the whole Jequetepeque Valley,” an area nearly fifty miles wide, “was totally razed because of booming demand for vessels and early materials of the Chavin culture.  Valuable archaeological information which could have clarified the nature, origin and religion of the first examples of Peruvian high culture, and the relationships between them, has been irretrievably lost.”

In Mali, which boasts of more archaeological sites than any other nation in Africa not counting Egypt, a survey found that 45 percent had been looted, and severely so in the case of 17 percent. “Over the past several decades,” claims Samuel Sidibe, Director of the National Museum in Mali, “most of Mali’s cultural heritage has been removed to Europe and the United States…Today, all regions where one may find marketable objects have been subject more to pillage than to archaeological research.” [18]

In China, the National Cultural Relics Bureau reported in 2003 that during the previous five years alone, over 220,000 ancient Chinese tombs were looted.   According to He Shuzhong of the National Administration for Culture in Beijing, a “large amount of knowledge has been destroyed through illicit excavation.  For example, we know very little of the Liao Dynasty,” but “almost all Liao tombs have now been dug into during the last few years.  Now there is no known surviving Liao site, or any Liao archaeological material remaining undisturbed in context.”

The situation in Italy is no better, where the loss of antiquities through looting has reached staggering proportions. In Sicily and southern Italy, thieves aided by the Mafia brazenly bulldoze archaeological sites in broad daylight.  Of the more than 13,000 known Apulian red-figure vases from Italy, barely over five percent were recovered archaeologically, and it is estimated that tens of thousands of ancient tombs were plundered to produce so many vases.  “This looting constitutes an archaeological crisis of the first order,” concludes archaeologist Ricardo Elia, and “the losses to archaeology and to our ability to understand and reconstruct the ancient cultures of Puglia (and South Italy) are enormous.”  Recent figures “indicate a virtual flooding of the international market with previously undocumented Apulian vases, as well as extremely robust collecting, both by museums and especially by private collectors.”  The trade in illicit antiquities is “tawdry, degrading and immoral,” declares archaeologist Colin Renfrew.  “Antiquities without provenance, lacking an archaeological history or context, have almost certainly been looted, wrenched from their sites by explosives which have destroyed their surrounds.  This is a crime against humanity.  Collectors, auction houses, dealers and museums should not trade or acquire ancient artifacts which lack a history.” [19]

Given the rapacious nature of the antiquities trade, it was clear that the chaos of war would imperil the magnificent archaeological heritage of Iraq. As the war approached, a sense of disquiet fell over the international archaeological community.  The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) sought meetings with U.S. government officials, while the private American Council on Cultural Policy (ACCP), representing collectors and dealers, met with the Pentagon and State Department.  The two groups, habitually at odds, were unable to forge a joint statement beforehand, and tellingly, it was the archaeologists who were excluded as a result.  “We wanted a statement that was more comprehensive and didn’t just address the bombing,” explains Patty Gerstenblith of the AIA.  Faced with the prospect of dealing with two groups unable to agree on a common agenda, the Bush Administration predictably chose to meet with private collectors and dealers.  Acting on his own, archaeologist Maguire Gibson of the Oriental Institute of Chicago joined two meetings held between the ACCP and the Pentagon in January and February 2003.  “There was only one archaeologist there – me,” he recalls.  “The rest were artifact collectors and lawyers, the people from ACCP.  I only went along to put my own point of view across, which was to plead for a minimizing of the bombing of known archaeological sites.  But I wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting a meeting with the Defense Department without the ACCP.  But I was there independently.” [20]

The American Council on Cultural Policy was founded in 2002 as an organization promoting the interests of collectors and dealers. The primary focus of the group has been to lobby for loosening laws relating to the collection of antiquities and to tame what its director, Ashton Hawkins, calls “overreaching law-enforcement” which “threaten” collectors of antiquities.  The ACCP also seeks to encourage the removal of restrictions on the export of antiquities from other nations.  In a pre-war interview, the organization’s treasurer, William Pearlstein, condemned Iraq’s laws on the export of antiquities as “retentionist,” and said the ACCP favored a “rational and balanced approach to cultural heritage issues.”  In other words, the aim of the organization was the alteration of national and international law so that the acquisitive interests of private collectors would be “balanced” with that of the public interest in access and preservation of the world’s heritage.

Those critics who charged that in its meetings with the Pentagon and State Department, the ACCP lobbied for a change in laws regulating the antiquities trade or even that it advocated that the National Museum of Baghdad be left unguarded were mistaken. According to Dr. Maguire Gibson, at these meetings the ACCP “didn’t press the retentionism stuff.  They kept saying that they just wanted to help.”  Dr. Patty Gerstenblith of the AIA, and no friend of the Council, concurs.  “Their agenda is totally clean at these meetings.  A lot of people sort of overstated what happened.” [21]

The approach of the ACCP was far more subtle, as revealed by Pearlstein in his pre-war interview. The ACCP, he said, supported “a sensible post-Saddam cultural administration” which would permit some artifacts to be “certified for export.  If we can get the Defense Department to listen when it comes to targeting, and influence conservation of cultural heritage, then that’s a pretty good start.”  A controlled and regulated export process was more in the interests of those the organization represented than an uncontrolled looting.  Objects obtained in an ostensibly legal manner could be readily exhibited and displayed, which would certainly not be the case for objects looted from the National Museum in Baghdad.  The meetings with the Pentagon and State Department were a means for the ACCP of getting its foot in the door, to establish it as a partner rather than the AIA.  By so doing, it would be the ACCP that would be well placed to act as the interlocutor with the Pentagon and State Department during the formulation of policy and regulations relating to archaeological issues in post-war Iraq.  Powerful interests are behind the ACCP.  “These are very, very well-connected people,” commented Dr. Gibson during the war.  “They are able to get a meeting with whoever they like, when they like.  You know, I believe they met with the President last week.  They are very affluent people, too.  One of the leading lights is a former State Department man, Arthur Houghton.  You have to understand that some of the members of their organization are among the biggest collectors and dealers of illegal artifacts in the world.” [22]

At the first meeting with the Pentagon, on January 24, Maguire Gibson stressed the importance of archaeological sites in Iraq. Dr. Gibson offered to supply “the exact coordinates of several thousand sites,” and did so the next day, delivering a list of 4,000 sites and later on sending another 1,000.  “I know they put those into their computers, into their mapping systems,” he says.  “And I know they made an effort not to destroy sites.  They had a special list of 150 sites on a ‘do not target’ list that included all the famous sites one would think of and a lot of others.  I came away from that meeting and subsequent email messages with various people in the military that they were aware of ancient sites, they were aware of it, and it would be heavily safeguarded, and it won’t be targeted.  My understanding was they were going to take it and safeguard it.”  What went wrong?  “Maybe I just wasn’t talking to people high enough in the organization,” wondered Dr. Gibson.  “I got nothing in writing.”

Tony Wilkinson, a colleague of Dr. Gibson’s, said the Oriental Institute of Chicago warned the Pentagon of the likelihood of looting, urging that soldiers “be posted at major museums.” Email traffic back and forth failed to yield results, however.  Like many others in the profession, Jane Waldbaum, president of the AIA, said her organization “sent letters to the Departments of Defense and State, and the White House in March” regarding the threat of looting.  Their counterparts in Great Britain fared no better.  Letters were sent to relevant ministry offices.  According to Eleanor Robson of All Souls College, Oxford, “They were completely ignored by the British government, who failed to acknowledge letters sent to them.  That was unspeakably terrible.” [23]

The Pentagon confirms that the National Museum of Baghdad was placed on its no-target list but Joseph Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Humanitarian and Peacekeeping Operations, stressed that “in no case” had military commanders been instructed to guard the National Museum. “We leave such decisions to commanders on the scene.”  It is ludicrous to suppose that individual officers, lacking information and archaeological expertise and with their attention focused on military operations, would be aware of the importance and location of various archaeological sites, or that such matters would receive any consideration.  Although perhaps an extreme expression of cultural insularity, the view of one U.S. Marine sergeant was surely reflective of the general level of knowledge of Iraq’s archaeological heritage among U.S. troops and their commanders.  “I’ve been all the way through this desert from Basra to here and I ain’t seen one shopping mall or fast food restaurant.  These people got nothing.  Even in a little town like ours of twenty-five hundred people you got a McDonald’s at one end and a Hardee’s at the other.”  At the time, he was just miles from the site of the ancient city of Ur, yet all he knew was that all of the obvious signs of culture were lacking.

On March 26, 2003, the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), which was to be responsible for supervising the occupation of Iraq, sent a memorandum to military commanders. It warned that the National Museum would be a “prime target for looters,” listing it as the second highest priority following the National Bank for safeguarding.  Two weeks later that memo had not even been read.  According to an unnamed OHRA official, “We asked for just a few soldiers at each building or if they feared snipers, then just one or two tanks.  The tanks were doing nothing once they got inside the city, yet the generals refused to deploy them, and look what happened.” [24]

The region of Mesopotamia was situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the area of modern-day Iraq. Often termed the “cradle of civilization,” it was Mesopotamia that saw the first transition from hunter-gathering to farming and the rise of the first villages and towns, and it was here that the first written language was developed.  Here, too, the first empires arose during the Bronze Age.  The region was home to the storied civilizations of Assyria, Babylon, Sumer and Ur and would later become part of the vast Persian Empire of Cyrus and Darius.  With the exception of Egypt, no other region in the world has so rich an archaeological record as Iraq.

Estimates place the total number of archaeological sites in Iraq at between 20,000 and 100,000, ranging from individual mounds to ancient cities. Protecting such an extensive array would be no easy task.  The aftermath of the Gulf War of 1991 saw the looting of nine out of 13 regional museums and the loss of more than 3,000 artifacts, most of which have never been recovered.

During the 1980s, the Iraqi Department of Antiquities was well staffed, with guards placed at all of the key sites and inspectors assigned responsibility for each region. Economic sanctions imposed on Iraq put a growing strain on resources and inevitably this began to affect the department’s operations.  Funding for museums was cut back and archaeological sites abandoned.  At one time the department employed 2,600 people, but by the time of the U.S. invasion, only a few hundred remained.  Staff reductions were primarily responsible for the shrinking of the department, but many employees left the country simply because they could no longer feed their families.  Richard Zetter of the University of Pennsylvania reports that curators and scholars in Iraq had “their cars commandeered, their telephones didn’t work, their salaries were frozen.  People just drifted away from antiquities.”  Money for maintenance and preservation of historic sites dried up, accelerating the process of decay, while archaeological research virtually ground to a halt.  Sanctions brought about a steep plunge in living standards throughout Iraq and nowhere more so than in the countryside.  Abandoned or poorly manned archaeological sites became targets for opportunistic looting by desperate villagers struggling to feed their families.  Consequently, as time went on, more and more looted objects poured into the antiquities trade pipelines, flooding the market for Mesopotamian artifacts. [25]

While public attention in the West was focused on looting at the National Museum, far more grievous damage was being wrought elsewhere in Iraq. It took several weeks before U.S. helicopters first surveyed the extent of looting in the countryside and before any effort was made to stanch the bleeding of Iraq’s heritage.  Although several major sites were eventually placed under guard, efforts by U.S. forces to protect archaeological sites were spotty at best, and little was done to thwart the wholesale destruction and looting by marauding criminal gangs and impoverished villagers, particularly in southern Iraq.

The museum in the northern city of Mosul suffered a savage looting following the fall of the Iraqi government. Before the war, the staff at the museum had taken the precaution of shipping more than 5,000 of the most valuable objects to the National Museum in Baghdad.  In took looters only twelve hours to empty the museum of nearly everything that remained.  The first thieves to enter the museum were apparently acting on behalf of Western dealers.  They ignored replicas and snatched only the genuine pieces.  “They knew what they wanted,” said Iraqi archaeologist Abdullah Amin.  In the basement library, which Amin characterized as “the most important library in the humanities in Mosul,” thieves took only the rarest books, manuscripts and atlases.  The second wave of looters snatched whatever they could, prying open safes, ransacking offices, and toppling statues too heavy to cart away.   A life-sized stone sculpture of a lion from Hatra was cracked in several places when looters pushed it over.  After kicking open the door to a storeroom and cutting a padlock, rampaging looters trampled clay pots and cuneiform tablets underfoot, seizing everything that was not destroyed in the process.  The most significant loss was that of thirty large embossed bronze panels dating from the ninth century BCE, which had originally adorned the Assyrian city of Balawat.  Fifty-four panels were left behind, but some were damaged and broken during attempts at their removal. [26]

In northern Iraq, Nimrud was once the site of the ancient city of Kalhu, which served as the capital of Assyria for 150 years beginning in the seventh century BCE. The walls of the city stretched for 5 miles, enclosing a ziggurat and magnificent palaces and temples.  Archaeologists have only excavated forty percent of the site so far, but the remains of several temples, palaces and gates have been recovered, as well as that of the ziggurat and many other buildings.  Following the Gulf War of 1991, bas-reliefs were looted from the site museum storeroom, after which they soon turned up on the antiquities market.  Some of the artifacts were cut into smaller pieces or broken apart by sledgehammers to make their origin less identifiable.

After the invasion of Iraq, Nimrud was pillaged once again, and several fragments of bas-reliefs were stolen or damaged. The first looters appeared the day after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces.  “That’s when our own war started,” recalled a guard.  In one attack in May 2003, an organized gang drove off the Iraqi guards with fire from AK-47s.  When the guards ran out of ammunition, the looters taunted them.  “They called out to us by name,” reported one guard.  “They threatened our families if we continued to resist, so we won’t.”  Thieves pried off bas-reliefs with crowbars or broke them off with sledgehammers, dragging them on blankets to waiting vehicles.  Persistent gangs continued to return unhindered to the site, boring through walls and breaking into warehouses.  Journalist Roger Atwood recalled that when he visited the site in 2003, “I saw where professional looters had chiselled out carvings decorating the imposing stone walls of the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II.  Those pieces have disappeared, sold into the illicit antiquities market and presumably now sitting in some collector’s living room.” [27]

Babylon served as the capital of southern Mesopotamia under Hammurabi in the 18th century BCE.  Inhabited for over two thousand years, the city was formidable in size, the largest in the Mediterranean until the rise of Rome.  Two of the seven wonders of the ancient world were located here: the hanging gardens and the massive city walls, and it was here where Alexander the Great died.  Most of Babylon still lies beneath the soil, with only a tiny portion of the city having been excavated.  During Saddam Hussein’s rule, modern and inaccurate reconstructions of the summer palace, three temples, ramparts and an amphitheater were built atop the ruins, a questionable and destructive endeavor from an archaeological standpoint.  And on a hilltop overlooking the site, Hussein raised one of his personal palaces.

“After the Americans came,” recalls archaeologist Ahmed Al-Ibrahim, “looters moved in the same day and took everything they could.” As was the case elsewhere, artifacts were shipped to the National Museum in Baghdad for safekeeping before the war.  Thieves broke through a brick wall to enter the museum and strip it of virtually every object, fortunately mostly replicas.  Besides the museum, the director’s house, the gift shop and the library were also looted.  Paperwork stored in the library, including documentation relating to site excavations, was intentionally set ablaze.  Thieves removed all but one of the inscribed bricks from a wall of the Throne Room of the Southern Palace and destroyed a significant portion of the Ishtar Gate in their determination to dislodge relief bricks. [28]

In October 2003, occupation authorities created the Babylon Archaeological Project, intended to support the resumption of fieldwork at the site. To all appearances, however, the project was only an empty exercise in public relations.  Months passed, but no help was forthcoming.  Rafal Kolinski, acting project director, reported, “Despite the original promise of the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] to finance equipment and Iraqi participation in the project, no funds were put at our disposal.  Consequently, efforts of the project team have been confined to monitoring and recording the extent of damage sustained by the site since the outbreak of the war.” [29]

Not long after the invasion, U.S. troops established a military base on the archaeological site of Babylon. Over the course of several months, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root built the infrastructure of the base with little regard for the historical importance of the site.  John Curtis of the British Museum was able to conduct a limited examination of Babylon after the military camp had been in operation for more than a year and a half.  Although he was unable to examine the entire installation, Curtis nevertheless found what he termed “substantial damage.”  A preexisting parking lot was greatly expanded to serve as a helicopter-landing pad and then treated with a petroleum product to prevent dust from kicking up.  Several large areas were flattened and covered with gravel.

Curtis was shown about a dozen trenches. “Some of the trenches were clearly cut into previously undisturbed archaeological deposits, and amongst the spoil from these trenches was observed pottery (including a complete vase), bones and fragments of brick with cuneiform inscriptions.”  The bricks in exposed sections of a sixth century BCE road were “badly broken,” Curtis noted. “This is thought to be the result of a heavy vehicle or vehicles driving over them.  If this is so, it is likely that the bricks still covered by earth are similarly damaged.”  The location of the base did have the unintended benefit of deterring looters, but reckless disregard for archaeological considerations wrought its own damage.  Wheel marks and ruts from heavy vehicles were common, Curtis pointed out, constituting a source of harm.  But “more worrying is the extent to which heavy vehicle movements on the surface will have damaged fragile archaeological remains below.”

Curtis estimated that approximately 984,000 square feet had been levelled and covered with gravel. “All the gravel has been brought in from elsewhere, and will of course work its way into the archaeological deposits.  This is extremely unfortunate from an archaeological view, as previously undisturbed archaeological deposits on the site will now be contaminated.  The status of future information about these areas will therefore be seriously compromised.” [30]

On May 21, 2003, archaeologist McGuire Gibson surveyed the situation in southern Iraq from a helicopter, accompanied by occupation authorities. Reports were indicating that Sumerian archaeological sites in the region were so pockmarked with holes and trenches dug by looters that they looked like “moonscapes.”  During his trip, Dr. Gibson personally witnessed numerous sites that revealed ample evidence of recent digging.  His helicopter circled several times over Tell Bismaya, the site of Adab, where he saw more than two hundred men “digging all over the site, which has obviously been worked on for some years.”

The helicopter landed at Jokka, the site of ancient Umma, where two hundred looters were busily working. “The soldiers from the helicopter moved toward the men, firing over their heads,” Dr. Gibson recalled.  “They began to run.  We looked at a devastated landscape.  An Early Dynastic cemetery (c. 2500 BCE) was being plundered near the excavation house, which had lost its roof.  Beyond this, an excavated Early Dynastic building was being riddled with new holes, and the area around it was pocked with holes.  In every direction, there was fresh digging.  The diggers began to return, and since many were armed, we went back to the helicopter and took off.”   From there, the helicopter flew south over Umm al Aqarib, where more looters were seen at work.  “The fresh damage we were viewing has been done only since the beginning of the war,” Dr. Gibson noted, “when looters came out and drove the guards from the site.”

At Ishan al-Bahriyat, anywhere from two to three hundred men were digging at the site of Isin. Munir Buchenaki, Deputy Cultural Director for UNESCO, reports that Isin has been “completely destroyed.  It is total destruction of an archaeological site.”  The story was much the same virtually wherever Dr. Gibson went.  “Looters were swarming all over them.  They scattered when we landed.  After a while, they tried to sell to us the pieces they had just dug up.  When we flew off, I could see them swarming back on to the site.”  Meanwhile, insatiable Western dealers and collectors stood to reap a bonanza from the process.  Nothing is being said about those who are driving this illegal business, charged Dr. Gibson.  “It’s a tremendous, tremendous scandal.” [31]

Destruction of the archaeological record continues unabated with the exception of the few locations that have been placed under guard. Occupation authorities rehired Iraqi guards and deployed them to protect various sites, replacing U.S. soldiers in that role.  Col. Bogdanos explained that these guards were ill-prepared for the task.  “They are usually alone at the sites they guard and have very little formal security training, communication assets, or vehicles.  Thus disposed and with no support, they are no match for determined and armed looters.”  Worse yet, occupation authorities refused to issue arms to the guards.  Unarmed and isolated, there was little a guard could do to deter criminal gangs.  “Sometimes the looters come by the hundreds,” said Thabit Gassad al-Fatlawi, head of Iraqi government inspections in southern Iraq.  “By the time the guards get help, it is days later and the damage is done.”

It was not until January 2004 that occupation authorities belatedly established the Archaeological Sites Protection Project. The need was great, as only 1,272 unarmed guards were covering the entire territory of Iraq.  Although the project claimed that it would change the status of the guards to “allow them to carry weapons and detain suspects for up to twelve hours,” in fact, this was never done while the country was under the control of the Coalition Provisional Authority.  Equipped only with radios, guards were powerless to stem the tide of looting.   Few guards were given training, and the promised vehicles, uniforms, and additional radios never arrived.  “Guards are still not authorized to carry weapons or make arrests,” complained Colonel Abas Fadil, who was in charge of training the guards.  In contrast, Iraqi guards stationed at oil sites had been supplied long before with arms, uniforms and vehicles.  Tafiq Abed Muhamed, responsible for archaeological sites in the province of Muthanna, repeatedly requested assistance in letters sent to U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer, none of which were answered.  “We have no guns, no guards,” he bitterly said.  “How are we supposed to protect the sites?  The coalition will arrest guards for carrying guns.”

Elizabeth Stone of New York State University claimed that thieves had even begun to employ bulldozers. Pietro Cordone, former advisor for cultural affairs for the Coalition Provisional Authority, reported, “The looters stop at nothing.  They use trucks, excavators, and armed guards to steal objects of great value without being disturbed.”  Measures taken to protect sites have been, he bluntly stated, “inadequate.”

Only after the Coalition Provisional Authority turned over symbolic power to an Iraqi puppet government was an effort initiated to arm guards at archaeological sites. By that time losses were already incalculable.  “Iraq is losing more of its antiquities each day from looting of sites than were taken from the museum,” says Dr. Gibson.  Eleanor Robson of All Souls College, Oxford, pointed out, “Only the most complete, robust and attractive artifacts make it from the looter’s pick to the middleman’s hands: somewhat less than one percent of the assemblage an academic archaeologist might salvage.  The other 99 percent is destroyed in the process of excavation or discarded as unsaleably unattractive or unstable.  Needless to say, all archaeological context is demolished in the looting process too, from the large-scale built environment (usually made of fragile mud-brick) to the microscopic food residues detectable on ancient floors and storage vessels.”  Dr. Gibson ruefully wondered what would remain.  “Some of these sites will be so badly destroyed that archaeologists will not go back to them.” [32]

While it is possible to rebuild a war-ravaged infrastructure, the devastation of Iraq’s archaeological patrimony cannot be repaired. Although Mesopotamia comprises one of the world’s richest sources of antiquities, this is a finite resource.  Every artifact stolen or damaged rightfully belongs to all of humanity and can never be replaced.  Timothy Potts, Director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, judges the pillage in Iraq to be “among the worst mass desecrations of cultural sites in our lifetime, perhaps the worst.”  For McGuire Gibson, “It’s one of the major, major tragedies around the world.  We have basically lost most of the ancient cities of Sumer.  There’s a culture of looting which has never been on this scale before.  It’s totally unprecedented.”

The same philosophy of greed and individual acquisitiveness at the expense of the public good lies behind both the antiquities trade and plans that call for the privatization and sell-off of Iraqi state-owned firms to Western corporations. Perhaps that explains the indifference with which collectors and dealers are treated.  Any weakly flickering signs of outrage are reserved solely for local looters and not for the powerful and wealthy interests that drive the whole disgraceful process.  It is primarily impoverished local thieves who bear the risk of arrest, while those who reap the profits and benefits from this trade act with impunity.  As long as collectors and dealers, acting through proxies, continue to brazenly loot the cultural heritage of the world, no effort aimed at lowly looters can have any effect.  The ravenous antiquities market is booming as never before, and its appetite has unleashed the scourge of looting and destruction that expands at an ever more alarming rate.  Unless effective measures are soon taken to attack the problem at its root, we all stand to be culturally poorer as a result. [33]

[1] Vaishnavi C. Sekhar and Nina Martyris, “Smashed Statues Demolish Vital Links With the Past,” Times of India, April 21, 2003

[2] McGuire Gibson, “Cultural Tragedy in Iraq: A Report on the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites,” IFAR Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 & 2, 2003.

Jonathan Steele, “Museum’s Treasures Left to the Mercy of Looters,” The Guardian (London), April 14, 2003.

David Blair, “Thieves of Baghdad Rob Museums of Priceless Treasure,” Daily Telegraph (London), April 14, 2003.

[3] “Raiders of the Lost Art,” Daily Telegraph (London), April 20, 2003.

“Were Baghdad’s Antiquity Thieves Ready?”, Business Week, April 17, 2003.

“Expert Says ‘Art Mafia’ Was Behind Baghdad Museum Looting,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, April 19, 2003.

McGuire Gibson, “Cultural Tragedy in Iraq: A Report on the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites,” IFAR Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 & 2, 2003.

Alan Riding, “Loss Estimates Are Cut on Iraqi Artifacts, But Questions Remain,” New York Times, May 1, 2003.

Mitchell Prothero, “Experts: Pros Looted the National Museum,” UPI, April 20, 2003.

Online Discussion, “Iraq: Looting of Cultural Treasures,” with Francis Deblauwe,

[4] John M. Russell, “A Personal Account of the First UNESCO Cultural Heritage Mission to Baghdad, May 16-20, 2003.

“Thousands of Missing Artifacts from Iraqi Museum Recovered,” DoD news briefing by Col. Matthew Bogdanos, September 10, 2003.

Jonathan Steele, “Museum’s Treasures Left to the Mercy of Looters,” The Guardian (London), April 14, 2003.

Alan Riding, “Loss Estimates Are Cut on Iraqi Artifacts, But Questions Remain,” New York Times, May 1, 2003.

“Chasing the Baghdad Loot,” Radio Netherlands, September 26, 2003.

[5] Jonathan Steele, “Museum’s Treasures Left to the Mercy of Looters,” The Guardian (London), April 14, 2003.

John M. Russell, “A Personal Account of the First UNESCO Cultural Heritage Mission to Baghdad, May 16-20, 2003.

“Thousands of Missing Artifacts from Iraqi Museum Recovered,” DoD news briefing by Col. Matthew Bogdanos, September 10, 2003.

Sebastian Smee, “Plunder in the Cradle of Civilization,” Daily Telegraph (London), April 19, 2003.

Eleanor Robson, “Cradle to Grave,” Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2003.

[6] DoD News Briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, April 11, 2003.

Robert Fisk, “Library Books, Letter and Priceless Documents Are Set Ablaze in Final Chapter of the Sacking of Baghdad,” The Independent (London), April 15, 2003.

David Blair, “Thieves of Baghdad Rob Museums of Priceless Treasures,” Daily Telegraph, April 14, 2003.

[7] Francis Deblauwe, “Melee at the Museum,” National Catholic Reporter, October 17, 2003.

Online Discussion, “Iraq: Looting of Cultural Treasures,” with Francis Deblauwe,

McGuire Gibson, “Cultural Tragedy in Iraq: A Report on the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites,” IFAR Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 & 2, 2003.

Eleanor Robson, “Iraq’s Museums: What Really Happened,” The Guardian (London), June 18, 2003.

[8] Francis Deblauwe, “Melee at the Museum,” National Catholic Reporter, October 17, 2003.

“More Than 13,500 Items Stolen from Baghdad Museum, US Investigation,” Agence France-Presse, September 10, 2003.

[9] McGuire Gibson, “Cultural Tragedy in Iraq: A Report on the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites,” IFAR Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 & 2, 2003.

[10] Joanne Farchakh, “The Specter of War,” Archaeology, May/June 2003.

[11] “Cultural Assessment of Iraq: The State of Sites and Museums in Southern Iraq,” National Geographic online edition, May 2003.

John M. Russell, “A Personal Account of the First UNESCO Cultural Heritage Mission to Baghdad, May 16-20, 2003.

“Thousands of Missing Artifacts from Iraqi Museum Recovered,” DoD news briefing by Col. Matthew Bogdanos, September 10, 2003.

Paul Jelinek, “Tracking Missing Iraqi Artifacts Will Take Years, Investigator Says,” Associated Press, May 17, 2003.

[12] “A Conversation with Matthew F. Bogdanos,” Archaeology Online, October 16, 2003.

John M. Russell, “The MPs Do It Again: Two More Antiquities from the Top 30 Are Back in the Iraq Museum,” Archaeological Institute of America, November 2003.

John M. Russell, “A Personal Account of the First UNESCO Cultural Heritage Mission to Baghdad, May 16-20, 2003,” Archaeological Institute of America, August 2003.

McGuire Gibson, “Cultural Tragedy in Iraq: A Report on the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites,” IFAR Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 & 2, 2003.

Sameer N. Yacoub, “Several Hundred Looted Relics Handed Over to the Iraqi Museum,” Associated Press, November 11, 2003.

“Building Trust in Iraq,” Archaeology, January/February 2004.

Eleanor Robson, “Iraq’s Museums: What Really Happened,” The Guardian (London), June 18, 2003.

[13] Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Wilson, Stealing History: the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2000.

Dennis B. Roddy, “Looting of Baghdad Treasures Shines Light on a ‘Dirty Business’,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 2003

[14] Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Wilson, Stealing History: the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2000.

Neil Brodie, “Lessons from the Illegal Trade in Antiquities,” from the seminar Regulation, Enforcement and the International Trade in Wildlife: New Directions for Changing Times, in Cambridge, United Kingdom, September 2001.

Anne E. Kornblut, “Turkey Battles to Recover Ancient Trove of Silver,” Boston Globe, December 13, 1998.

Neil Brodie, “Pity the Poor Middleman,” Culture without Context, Autumn 1998.

Rory Carroll, “Tomb Raiders Plunder Italy’s Past,” The Guardian, June 20, 2000.

Simon Mackenzie, “Regulating the Market in Illicit Antiquities,” Simon Mackenzie, Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, September 2002.

Philippe Baque, “Looting the South’s Past,” Le Monde diplomatique, February 2005.

[15] Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Wilson, Stealing History: the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2000.

Dennis B. Roddy, “Looting of Baghdad Treasures Shines Light on a ‘Dirty Business’,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 2003.

“Selling the Past: Collectors and Protectors,” Archaeology online,

[16] David D’Arcy, “Legal Group to Fight ‘Retentionist’ Policies,” The Art Newspaper, October 24, 2002.

Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Wilson, Stealing History: the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2000.

[17] Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Wilson, Stealing History: the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2000.

“Our Plundered Past,” Asian Art Newspaper, January 2000.

Colin Renfrew, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, Duckworth, 2000.

Rochanie Thosarat, “Report from Southeast Asia,” Culture Without Context, Spring 2001.

Rachanie Thosarat, “The Destruction of the Cultural Heritage of Thailand and Cambodia,” in Trade in Illict Antiquities: the Destruction of the World’s Archaeological Heritage, edited by Neil Brodie, Jennifer Doole and Colin Renfrew, McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, 2001.

[18] Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Peter Wilson, Stealing History: the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2000.

Colin Renfrew, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, Duckworth, 2000.

“Our Plundered Past,” Asian Art Newspaper, January 2000.

Hannah Beech, “Spirited Away,” Time Asia, October 20, 2003.

Walter Alva, “The Destruction, Looting and Traffic of the Archaeological Heritage of Peru,” in Trade in Illict Antiquities: the Destruction of the World’s Archaeological Heritage, edited by Neil Brodie, Jennifer Doole and Colin Renfrew, McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, 2001.

[19] Ricardo J. Elia, “Analysis of the Looting, Selling, and Collecting of Apulian Red-Figure Vases: a Quantitative Approach,” in Trade in Illict Antiquities: the Destruction of the World’s Archaeological Heritage, edited by Neil Brodie, Jennifer Doole and Colin Renfrew, McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, 2001.

Rory Carroll, “Tomb Raiders Plunder Italy’s Past,” The Guardian, June 20, 2000.

He Shuzhong, “Illicit Excavation in Contemporary China,” in Trade in Illict Antiquities: the Destruction of the World’s Archaeological Heritage, edited by Neil Brodie, Jennifer Doole and Colin Renfrew, McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, 2001.

[20] Dennis B. Roddy, “Looting of Baghdad Treasures Shines Light on a ‘Dirty Business’,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 2003.

Rod Little, “The Day of the Jackals,” The Spectator (London), April 19, 2003.

[21] David D’Arcy, “Legal Group to Fight ‘Retentionist’ Policies,” The Art Newspaper, October 24, 2002.

Andrew Lawler, “Impending War Stokes Battle Over Fate of Iraqi Antiquities,” Nature, January 31, 2003.

Rod Little, “The Day of the Jackals,” The Spectator (London), April 19, 2003.

Dennis B. Roddy, “Looting of Baghdad Treasures Shines Light on a ‘Dirty Business’,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 27, 2003.

[22] Andrew Lawler, “Impending War Stokes Battle Over Fate of Iraqi Antiquities,” Nature, January 31, 2003.

Rod Little, “The Day of the Jackals,” The Spectator (London), April 19, 2003.

[23] Interview with McGuire Gibson, “Where Civilization Began,” Archaeology, July/August 2003.

Douglas Jehl and Elizabeth Becker, “Experts’ Pleas to Pentagon Didn’t Save Museum,” New York Times, April 16, 2003.

Alfred Lubrano, “U.S., Scholars Spar on Looting of Artifacts,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 17, 2003.

Sebastian Smee, “Plunder in the Cradle of Civilization,” Daily Telegraph (London), April 19, 2003.

[24] Douglas Jehl and Elizabeth Becker, “Experts’ Pleas to Pentagon Didn’t Save Museum,” New York Times, April 16, 2003.

James Meek, “Marines Losing the Battle for Hearts and Minds,” The Guardian, March 25, 2003.

Paul Martin, Ed Vuillamy and Gaby Hinsliff, “US Army Was Told to Protect Looted Museum,” The Observer (London), April 20, 2003.

[25] McGuire Gibson, “The Loss of Archaeological Context and the Illegal Trade in Mesopotamian Antiquities,” Culture Without Context, Autumn 1997.

Interview with McGuire Gibson, “Where Civilization Began,” Archaeology, July/August 2003. “Raiders of the Lost Art,” Daily Telegraph (London), April 20, 2003.

McGuire Gibson, “Cultural Tragedy in Iraq: A Report on the Looting of Museums, Archives, and Sites,” IFAR Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 & 2, 2003.

Bertrand Rosenthal, “Nippur, Ancient Mesopotamian City, Easy Prey for Looters,” Agence France-Presse, July 10, 2003.

“Ancient Iraqi Sites Show Theft, Destruction,” National Geographic News, June 11, 2003.

[26] Douglas Birch, “In North Iraq, an Ancient Past Falls Victim to a Modern War,” Baltimore Sun, April 18, 2003.

Roger Atwood, “In the North of Iraq: Mosul’s Museum, Hatra, and Nimrud,” Archaeology online,, June 4, 2003.

[27] Samuel M. Paley, “Nimrud, the War and the Antiquities Markets,” IFAR Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1 & 2 2003.

Paul Salopek, “Looters Go to Source to Steal Iraq Artifacts,” Chicago Tribune, May 2, 2003.

Roger Atwood, “Stop, Thieves!  Recovering Iraq’s Looted Treasures,” Washington Post, October 3, 2004.

[28] Philip Smucker, “Babylon’s Guides Beg for an End to Looting,” Daily Telegraph (London), April 21, 2003.

“Australian Helps Babylon Restoration,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, November 24, 2003.

Andrew Lawler, et al, “Cultural Assessment of Iraq: the State of Sites and Museums in Southern Iraq,” National Geographic online, May 2003.

“Raiders of the Lost Art,” Daily Telegraph (London), April 20, 2003.

“Ancient Iraqi Sites Show Theft, Destruction,” National Geographic News, June 11, 2003.

[29] Rafal Kolinski, “10 Weeks in Babylon,” British School of Archaeology in Iraq Newsletter,” May 2004.

[30] J.E. Curtis, “Report on Meeting at Babylon, 11-13 December 2004,” The British Museum.

[31] McGuire Gibson, “Cultural Assessment of Iraq: a Helicopter Inspection of Endangered Southern Sites,” National Geographic online, May 2003.

Robbing the Cradle of Civilization, CBC documentary, 2003.

Bertrand Rosenthal, “Nippur, Ancient Mesopotamian City, Easy Prey for Looters,” Agence France-Presse, July 10, 2003.

[32] Patrick Cockburn, “Americans Restore Ancient Treasures to Museum – For Two Hours Only,” The Independent (London), July 4, 2003.

Eleanor Robson, “Cradle to Grave,” Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2003.

“Looters Ransack Southern Iraqi Archaeological Sites: Expert,” Agence France-Presse, September 29, 2003.

Timothy Potts, “Buried Between the Rivers,” New York Review of Books, September 25, 2003.

Martin Gottlieb, “Looters Swarm over Remote Sites, Study Finds,” New York Times, June 12, 2003.

E.A. Torriero, “Art Looters Kept at Bay as Forces Step Up Security,” Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2003.

“A Conversation with Matthew F. Bogdanos,” Archaeology Online,, October 16, 2003.

Cristina Ruiz and Edward Kaufman, “Senior Cultural Adviser in Iraq Comes Under “Friendly Fire,” The Art Newspaper, October 3, 2003.

Robert E. Sullivan, “Iraq Journal: Grave Robbers’ Looting Spree,” Fox News, January 16, 2004.

Coalition Provisional Authority Press Release, “Archaeological Site Protection Discussed in Al-Hilla,” January 6, 2004.

Michael Garen, “The War within the War,” Archaeology, July/August 2004.

[33] Timothy Potts, “Buried Between the Rivers,” New York Review of Books, September 25, 2003.

Talek Harris, “Ancient Kingdom Cities Destroyed by Looting and Military Campaign,” Agence France-Presse, July 7, 2004.