Saturday, 14 March 2015

Terror and trade

Nimrud as it at least was (photo: Wikimedia)

This week's most important main archaeological news has been the destruction brought by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the northern Iraq. We have seen lately men with hammers in the museum in Mosul and heard about the demolition of Nimrud and other places. The ancient cemeteries have apparently been pillaged and artefacts sold in order to raise money for the caliphate. Today we have got the news that at least some of the statues may have been modern plaster copies, but not apparently others. In any case, the iconoclasts show no mercy for the people nor their history but try to erase both. As an archaeologist one can only take one stand: against the mindless destruction, prejudice and lack of respect to other people and their past.

Nevertheless, as an individual one feels slightly powerless against the propaganda machinery that tries to fill the enemies with fear. The head of UNESCO has condemned the destruction and Lord Renfrew and others keep the interested audience informed - and have raised the issue long before the hammers reached the tv screens. Locally, in different countries Middle Eastern archaeologists have given interviews and tried to figure out the misinformation and news ducks from the real information dribbling out from Iraq, Syria and Libya. For example, Sanna Aro-Valjus in Finland has raised awareness how illegal antiquities have been used to fund atrocities and Ida Ă–stenberg has revealed how Nimrud was found in the Svenska Dagbladet. However, not all contributions are laudable - and some are downright lamentable and some need to be counteracted by any archaeologist. President and CEO of the Getty Trust has aready earlier made a case against the repatriation of antiquities - his museum is no stranger to the issue of having problems with the provenience of their displayed items. Now he has suggested that UNESCO's policy that secures the right of a country to its patrinomy is the cause to the heritage being at risk. This is taking the awful situation in the Middle East as a hostage to promote own agenda. This kind of 'bandwagonism' does not help heritage.

Taken the complicated situation in the area, a normal archaeologist just does not quite know which side is behind the support sites or how independent and neutral they are, but SAFE and the Syria campaign do exist. In any case, the APAAME project continues to monitor the antiquities in the Middle East from Oxford, and I am sure countless people are scanning through their Goole Earths. It is important for the minorities to know that even if we individuals can do little from our laptops, we can care and try to do little acts of resistance to make people and their past safer. We can read blogs such as the Looting Matters and follow the Chasing Afrodite to stay informed and share the information.

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