Iraqi archaeological resource managers have apparently taken a leaf out of
the PAS book:
"More finds retrieved by Antiquities Department"
"The finds were delivered to the Iraq Museum by ordinary Iraqi citizens...."
"Iraqis delivering finds to the museum are rewarded
financially. The department asks no questions on how they
came into their possession."
It strikes me that this is less of a means of mitigating the looting in Iraq
(like artefact hunting everywhere, the erosion of the archaeological record
having already occurred when the objects are dug out), but intended to
offset the trade in and smuggling of these objects. The latter is however a
secondary concern to the primary one of huge holes dug in these sites and
the removal of a myriad of pieces of archaeological ecidence from their
contexts. Like much recent reporting of 'portable antiquity' matters, the
media mistakenly assume that the issue is one of getting our hands on "the
goodies" rather than combatting the erosion of the resource.
The existence of a domestic and global trade in illegally obtained Iraqi
portable antiquities means though that the cash-strapped Iraqi heritage
management system is now spending money to buy back from Iraqi citizens that
which already belongs to all Iraqi citizens and administered by the state on
I think we are all aware that the 463 artefacts the report trumpets PAS-like
as having been "saved" by these "unsung heroes of the Iraqi heritage" is
probably just a drop in the ocean compared to the real scale of losses to
Iraq's heritage since 1990 and the introduction of sanctions supported by
the UK and the US which began this whole sorry business.
Britain (as required by the UN security council Resolution 1483 in 2003 as
well as its obligations under other international regulations) passed an
'Iraq (UN Sanctions) Order 2003',
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2003/20031519.htm to deal with the problem at
this end. I suspect this has had just about as much effect as the other
legal white elephant, the 'Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003'.
So much for the British government's continually repeated "resolution" to
deal with the illicit trade of cultural property going on through
Surely its not enough to pass ineffective global and specific legislation
that nobody has any intention (or means) of actually enforcing. Neither is
it anything really to rejoice over that 463 Iraqi "finders" have seen the
light and reported what they have in their collections and the state has
bought them off them. Surely we need collectively to take a closer look at
the whole body of interrelated portable antiquity issues and consider how we
can tackle the escalating problem of portable antiquity mining, trade and
collection which worldwide is severely damaging the archaeological resource?
IFA code of conduct principle 1.6 only requires its members to "discourage"
(and of course "not engage in") illicit or unethical dealings in
antiquities, perhaps it should require archaeologists to combat them and
related phenomena. So far the initiative here is mainly in the hands of the
US archaeological community.