Conflict, Looting and the Law Essay

1293 Words 6 Pages
Conflict, Looting and the Law
Iraq has over ten thousand registered archaeological sites (Patron 2008:466) and there is a long history of uncontrolled excavations which resulted from the demand for antiquities in museums and the mantelpieces of London, New York and Tokyo. When Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq in 1973 (Bio 2013) he used nationalistic parallels with Babylonian history to stimulate a national unity (Cuno 2011:54) - for example Nebuchadnezzar II’s palace at Babylon was rebuilt with great fanfare (Zettler 2002:1). Looting was severely punished and it was relatively unknown. I lived in Iraq up-until the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War and the majority of the archaeological sites I visited were largely abandoned and the Iraqis seemed to have little interest in them. By the mid-1990s sporadic looting was reported (Stone 2008:125) and this increased considerably in the period before the Iraq War. Looting was highly organized and focused on sites which might provide the most valuable artefacts such as cylinder seals, tablets and statuary. Looting was so widespread that we must ask how effective are the laws protecting cultural heritage?

Artefacts stolen from the Iraq Museum had some provenance so their removal seems to be a simple matter of theft – which is covered by numerous legal doctrines – but artefacts looted from sites are undocumented and there is no record of their theft (Gerstenblith 2008:84-85). Patron (2008:482-483) notes that many nations have…