War and political instability bring in their wake many unintended consequences. Not uncommonly, among those consequences are the loss and destruction of shared cultural heritage. The New York Times tells a sad story from Iraq. To be sure, it’s not as sad as the human loss but, as I see it, it is related to the loss of life and livelihood.
The looting of Iraq’s ancient ruins is thriving again. This time it is not a result of the “stuff happens” chaos that followed the American invasion in 2003, but rather the bureaucratic indifference of Iraq’s newly sovereign government.
Thousands of archaeological sites — containing some of the oldest treasures of civilization — have been left unprotected, allowing what officials of Iraq’s antiquities board say is a resumption of brazenly illegal excavations, especially here in southern Iraq.
Read Steven Lee Myers’ whole article. While the article attempts to disassociate this problem from the war, it is delusional to think there is not an association. Guards and fences would help. However, the Iraqi government, the UN and the worldwide antiquities community must cut off the illegitimate market for these looted material treasures. There’s a supply side and a demand side to this problem and both must be eliminated.
As much as I’d hate to see Iraq’s material heritage exported, I wonder if a legitimate market for legally excavated material should be temporarily established. Such a market might encourage Iraqi government attention in the short term. But that must be an Iraqi decision and an Iraqi decision alone.