September 17, 2007
In Iraq, five millenia ago, civilization began. Today, among the many bitter fruits of the US invasion is this: the ongoing — and soon to be complete — ransacking, looting, and destruction of thousands of the world's most ancient archaeological sites. Robert Fisk:
Today, almost every archaeological site in southern Iraq is under the control of looters.
In a long and devastating appraisal to be published in December, Lebanese archaeologist Joanne Farchakh says that armies of looters have not spared "one metre of these Sumerian capitals that have been buried under the sand for thousands of years.
"They systematically destroyed the remains of this civilisation in their tireless search for sellable artefacts: ancient cities, covering an estimated surface area of 20 square kilometres, which – if properly excavated – could have provided extensive new information concerning the development of the human race.
"Humankind is losing its past for a cuneiform tablet or a sculpture or piece of jewellery that the dealer buys and pays for in cash in a country devastated by war. Humankind is losing its history for the pleasure of private collectors living safely in their luxurious houses and ordering specific objects for their collection."
Ms Farchakh, who helped with the original investigation into stolen treasures from the Baghdad Archaeological Museum in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, says Iraq may soon end up with no history.
"There are 10,000 archaeological sites in the country. In the Nassariyah area alone, there are about 840 Sumerian sites; they have all been systematically looted. Even when Alexander the Great destroyed a city, he would always build another. But now the robbers are destroying everything because they are going down to bedrock. What's new is that the looters are becoming more and more organised with, apparently, lots of money.
"Quite apart from this, military operations are damaging these sites forever. There's been a US base in Ur for five years and the walls are cracking because of the weight of military vehicles. It's like putting an archaeological site under a continuous earthquake."
Of all the ancient cities of present-day Iraq, Ur is regarded as the most important in the history of man-kind. Mentioned in the Old Testament – and believed by many to be the home of the Prophet Abraham – it also features in the works of Arab historians and geographers where its name is Qamirnah, The City of the Moon. [...]
The legions of antiquities looters work within a smooth mass-smuggling organisation. Trucks, cars, planes and boats take Iraq's historical plunder to Europe, the US, to the United Arab Emirates and to Japan. The archaeologists say an ever-growing number of internet websites offer Mesopotamian artefacts, objects anywhere up to 7,000 years old.
The farmers of southern Iraq are now professional looters, knowing how to outline the walls of buried buildings and able to break directly into rooms and tombs. The archaeologists' report says: "They have been trained in how to rob the world of its past and they have been making significant profit from it. They know the value of each object and it is difficult to see why they would stop looting." [Emphasis added]
Millenia have passed, empires have come and gone, and the antiquities have survived it all. But now, in the blink of an eye, they will be gone.
It's disgraceful and appalling, but it fits: we trash the world with reckless disregard for the generations to come after us, so of course we care nothing for the ones who came before. But these things, once done, cannot be undone. It is cause for deep and everlasting shame.