Monthly Archives: May 2009
Lawrence Rothfield and "The Rape of Mesopotamia"
In April 2003, like many of us, Lawrence Rothfield watched with great concern as news accounts detailed the pillage of Iraq’s National Museum. Since then, the looting of sites around Iraq has not ceased, and Rothfield, as co-founder and former director of the Cultural Policy Center at the University of Chicago, has been working on an extensive inquiry into how such wholesale thievery and destruction was allowed to occur.
In his resulting work, The Rape of Mesopotamia (University of Chicago Press, 2009), Rothfield reconstructs the planning failures – originating at the highest levels of the U.S. government – that led to the invading forces’ utter indifference to the protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage from looters. Widespread incompetence and miscommunication enabled a tragedy that continues even today, despite widespread public outrage. Bringing his story into the present, Rothfield argues that the international community has yet to learn the lessons of Iraq – and that what happened there is liable to be repeated in future conflicts. The Rape of Mesopotamia is a powerful, infuriating chronicle of the disastrous conjunction of military adventure and cultural destruction.
Rothfield was recently featured in the article “Iraq War’s cultural costs as seen through a Chicago prism” by Julia Keller in The Chicago Tribune, where Rothfield reveals that one of the reasons that spurred him to write this authoritative account was its many connections to the city of Chicago.
The Rape of Mesopotamia is essential reading for all concerned with the future of our past, and is now available from the SAFE Store.(MORE ...)
The Scars of War
While time does not heal all wounds, it offers the possibility for reflection and recovery. On May 28, the New York City Bar Association called on archaeologists, lawyers, and all interested parties to gather in the halls of the House of the Association in mid-town Manhattan to discuss, “The Art of War: The Protection of Cultural Property in War and Peace.” Moderated by Lucille A. Roussin, the speakers included Donny George, former Director General of the Iraq Museum and now a visiting Professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook; Corine Wegener, President of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield; and Colonel Matthew Bogdanos of the U.S. Marine Corps who headed the investigation into the looting of the Iraq Museum.
Dr. Donny George discussed the constitution and law of antiquities of Iraq while lamenting over the destruction caused not just by Sunni and Shiite factions, but also by attempts to increase tourism. Corine Wegener reflected ...(MORE ...)
Preserving architectural heritage: A review of "Time Honored. A Global View of Architectural Conservation"
The elliptical canopy of the New York State Pavilion with its oversized, mosaic-made map of the state of New York is one of the few remaining structures from the historical event of 1964-1965 World’s Fair. The hollow cliff side in the Bamyan valley sadly reminds us of the two ancient monumental statues of Buddha Vairocana and Buddha Sakyamuni, once peacefully overlooking the site, mercilessly dynamited and destroyed in 2001. And the fortress of Fenestrelle, also called the “Great Wall of the Alps,” with its complex architectural layout, is one of the largest fortified structures remaining in Europe from the Eighteenth century, and as such an important crossroad for all of ...(MORE ...)
“Cultural vandalism”: The destruction of ancient Kashgar
The Chinese government has begun its plan to raze the old oasis city of Kashgar to the ground. According to news reports, two-thirds of this old city has already been bulldozed. Over the next few years, 85% of Kashgar will be demolished.
Kashgar, “virtually untouched by modern society,” is an important oasis city strategically located on the ancient Silk Road in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China. Architect and historian George Michell described Kashgar as “the best-preserved example of a traditional Islamic city to be found anywhere in central Asia.” The Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic group, predating the advent of Islam, are one of China’s largest ethnic minorities.
Because Kashgar is a city that lies in the heart of Central Asia, it was one of the most important cities along the northern route ...(MORE ...)
Skull Wars: A review
The following review of Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity by David Hurst Thomas is written by Andrew Vasicek, SAFE Volunteer.
Based on the title and purported subject matter of the book, a little more detail about the Kennewick Man himself and the surrounding controversy, both legal and cultural, was expected. As it was, only a small space is dedicated to the 9000 year old skeletal remains of a prehistoric man found on a bank of the Columbia River in Kennewick, WA on July 28, 1996.
After their discovery, the remains became the newest and most visible battleground surrounding what can and should be done with such skeletons. Based on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), five Native American groups claimed the remains as theirs, to ...(MORE ...)
Export 101 for Antiquities
Over on the Yahoo AncientArtifacts forum there is a telling request for information. A small-time dealer in antiquities from North Carolina asks the list:
Back to basics if someone can help me. In regard to antiquities, which countries: Allow the free and unregulated trade in and export of antiquities? Restrict any trade in or export of antiquities? Don’t seem to care so they don’t address the issue with legislation? Allow regulated trade in and export of antiquities if proper paperwork is obtained? I know most countries ban export of antiquities and do these laws differentiate between pieces of major archaeological/cultural importance and minor pieces. For simplicity, I include coins as antiquities unless there are separate laws governing coins.
This would be sixty-four million dollar question I would have thought for anyone engaged in antiquity collecting, let alone commerce. So, we might ask why there seems to be no published handlist of these laws compiled by the collecting advocacy organizations as an aid ...(MORE ...)
US Returns Ancient Ur to Iraq
On May 13, the US military hands over control of ancient Ur to Iraqi authorities. Archaeologist Abdulamir Hamdani sent these photos from the ceremony to SAFE, and indicated that “With your moral and emotional support for us, we look forward to start of implementation of cultural heritage’s projects in the city of Ur, such as: surveys, documentation, maintenance, conservation and exploration.”(MORE ...)
Remarkable objects, multiple histories: The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and the protection of American Indian cultural patrimony
The article briefly outlines the historical context of collecting American Indian artifacts, including human remains, and how nowadays NAGPRA provisions regulate acquisition and protection of Native American cultural patrimony.
On a sunny afternoon of May 1988 an unusual, small procession composed of Zuni Indians religious leaders and tribal councilmen walked through the streets of Midtown Manhattan. It ...(MORE ...)