By PETER O'CONNOR, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia (May 4, 2003 12:24 p.m. EDT) - After years of research and negotiations, Bob Weatherall stood trembling with fear and emotion outside a vault beneath the foundations of London's Royal College of Surgeons. Behind the dusty steel door lay the remains of dozens of Aborigines, most likely stolen from their graves and shipped to Europe to satisfy the curiosity of 19th century anthropologists, doctors and scientists. Weatherall had come to take his people home.
"I was frightened. I was scared," he said. "When you go into secret and sacred places you are not to disturb the spirit. It's a slow introduction and you want to communicate, to say we are now going to take you home, we are now going to set you free."
Weatherall, a member of the Kamilaroi tribe of eastern Australian Aborigines, went to London in early April with Henry Atkinson from the Yorta Yorta tribe and Major Sumner of the Ngaranjerri to reclaim the remains of 60 Aborigines that had been traced to the Royal College of Surgeons. Most of the remains came from those three tribes.
Upon arrival in Australia's capital, the remains were given a private ceremony in which Aborigines burned eucalyptus leaves to welcome the spirits. Because of cultural taboos, the Aborigines and museums wouldn't allow photographs.
The remains are again being stored in a museum, in Canberra, while researchers check academic papers dating back to the early 1800s trying to find mention of their origin so they can be buried on proper tribal land.
Aborigines, a minority of about 400,000 in this country of 19 million people, believe they must be buried in ancestral lands before their spirits can continue the journey into the afterlife.
"We don't see them as being dead. We see them as being on their journey into the spirit world. That is not a dead world; that is a world where all people go, where the spirit and souls go," Weatherall said.
Any remains that can't be traced will be kept at the museum, although a proposal is being considered to build a memorial where unidentified remains could be kept.
The remains of about 8,000 Aborigines are still in limbo in museums and other institutions abroad.
Weatherall has spent 20 years tracking them down. So far he has returned 750 to Australia, and just a fraction of those have been buried in their ancestral lands.
Most were stolen by grave robbers, but some were murdered by traders who sold their bodies to scientists eager to study the Aborigine race, which was discovered in Australia by Europeans only 200 years ago.
Weatherall, Atkinson and Sumner said most of the remains brought back in April were not complete. Kept in cardboard boxes, drawers, cupboards, plastic sacks, paper bags and bottles, there were skulls, individual bones and some skeletons, plus organs like brains, kidneys, penises and wombs. Choking back tears, Atkinson said recovering the remains had been a deeply emotional moment - both joyous and painful.
And there is anger.
The three men said they were told on a visit to London's Natural History Museum that it was holding on to the remains of an estimated 450 Aborigines because dental researchers wanted to make further studies.
"They are still experimenting - experimenting on my people, writing a thesis and making money. But what good does it do for the Aboriginal people?" Atkinson said. "People just don't understand that those people were robbed and taken overseas and used as ornaments, trophies, tools, instruments for teaching."
Officials at the museum confirmed they met with the Aboriginal delegation but declined to comment in detail on the talks.
Australia's indigenous affairs minister, Philip Ruddock, who has lobbied the British government to assist the return of remains, calls experimenting on Aborigines "obscene." But he says such work is now rare.
"In terms of the issue of continuing experimentation, I must say I think it is more the exception than the rule," Ruddock said.
Geoff Clark, who heads the government-financed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, disagrees.
"When you make approaches to these institutions the rationale for saying no is usually ongoing scientific experimentation," he said.
Weatherall said smaller medical schools and colleges have been the most cooperative in giving back remains. The problem, he said, is the big institutions that have huge holdings of human remains and antiquities scoured from around the globe at the height of the British Empire.
"The big fellas think they will lose the Elgin Marbles to the Greeks, the mummies will go back to Egypt and things will go back to Turkey. They fear setting precedents that will lose them their treasures," he said.
The British Museum and government have rebuffed repeated appeals by Greece to return the Elgin Marbles, a frieze that decorated the Parthenon in Athens before being removed 150 years ago.
Last year 19 major museums in Europe and the United States signed a declaration opposing the return of cultural artifacts, arguing that the universal value of archaeological, artistic and ethnic collections outweighs the desire by individual nations or racial groups for their retrieval.
Still, Weatherall believes attitudes are changing at many institutions.
"New, younger people are coming into these museums who think differently," he said. "I think in the next few years we will see thousands of my people coming home."
Agents Hunt for Stolen Altarpiece
Federal agents said they have evidence a 16th century altarpiece believed stolen from a remote Peruvian village was in Santa Fe recently.
Agents have not found the piece, however, said David Fry, resident agent of the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Albuquerque office.
“We attempted to locate it today and came up empty,” Fry said Thursday. “We have received reliable information from witnesses who have observed it in Santa Fe within the past 10 days.” He urged anyone with information to come forward.
The altarpiece described as stolen depicts a pair of winged saints with cherubs overhead. It is said to have been created by artists Bernardo Bitti and Pedro de Vargas, whose work is well known in South America. The piece was reported stolen from the village of Challapampa in January 2002 after being removed from the church during repair work.
Fry would not reveal details of Thursday’s search in Santa Fe because a related search warrant is sealed by the court.
Dutch art dealer Michel van Rijn, a self-described former “art pirate,” alleged on his Web site that a piece displayed in the home of Santa Fe art dealer Ron Messick was the Peruvian altar piece.
Messick’s attorney, Carl Soller of New York, has denied van Rijn’s allegation and challenged him to come forward with any information that the piece is stolen.
Soller said in late April that before Messick acquired the piece he went through standard checks to determine if it had been reported missing or stolen. Soller has said Messick’s piece is believed to be by Bitti-de Vargas or “in the school” of the two artists and to have left South America in the early 1960s.
Soller would not say how Messick came to own it, how much he paid for it or where it is being stored.
He would not comment further Thursday.
Emory Museum returning mummy to Egypt
By MIKE TONER Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer
Zahi Hawass, director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, convinced Emory University's Carlos Museum to return the mummy of Ramesses I.
Wizened and leather-brown from 3,000 years as a mummy, the remains of what is believed to be Egypt's pharaoh Ramesses I lie in quiet repose at Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum, an oasis of calm in a cultural storm.
Sealed in plexiglass, arms folded across his chest, face frozen in the mask of death, the founder of Egypt's 19th Dynasty projects an aura of timeless serenity -- a sharp contrast to the booming voice of the director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities. Zahi Hawass is pleased. "This is a wonderful example of a museum that cares more about the origins of antiquities than about keeping them for public display," said Egypt's top archaeologist. "History will be thanking this museum for what it has done."
In a gesture of cultural rapprochement, the Carlos Museum will return the mummy to Egypt when the exhibit ends in September. A place has been reserved for it in a museum in Luxor, not far from where tomb robbers sold it into exile a century and a half ago.
"We're doing this because a mummy of this stature belongs in Egypt," said Peter Lacovara, the Carlos' curator of ancient Egyptian art. "It is the right thing to do."
The museum sought no quid pro quo. But Hawass says the gesture -- coupled with the museum's return last week of fragments from the tomb of Seti I -- bodes well for future cooperation with the Egyptian government on archaeological investigations and exhibits.
Other museums may not be treated so kindly. After 200 years of watching the pieces of Egypt's past carted off to museums and auction houses in the West, Hawass is moving aggressively to take them back.
Today, the remains of Ramesses I. Soon, he suggests with a gleam in his eyes, the Rosetta Stone and other icons of Egyptian antiquity now held in the West -- a quest that could become a fractious tug of war over who owns, and who should own, the trappings of a nation's cultural heritage.
When he became Egypt's top archaeologist a year ago, the 55-year-old Hawass immediately announced a "most strenuous effort" to track down Egyptian artifacts that had been stolen and smuggled out of the country. Since then, he has been relentless.
With the zeal of an Indiana Jones, he has threatened, cajoled and vowed legal action against museums, art dealers, middlemen and even people in his own department found to be engaged in illegal activity. After a year, the campaign has made its mark.
New York art dealer Frederick Schultz was convicted last year and sentenced to 33 months for plotting to smuggle several objects, including a bust of Amenhotep III (1349 B.C.) and a limestone plaque from Egypt's Old Kingdom (2613 B.C. to 2181 B.C.) out of Egypt between 1990 and 1996.
Schultz is appealing his conviction, but the bust of Amenhotep and the other artifacts seized in the case are headed back to Egypt.
So are a host of other items including: A pharaonic relief returned by French auctioneers who discovered that it had been stolen; the sarcophagus of Akhennaten, returned by Germany after it was determined to be stolen; a stone carving of Amenhotep III, spotted in the Netherlands and identified as stolen by Interpol; a relief from the Temple of Isis, spotted in a Christie's New York auction catalog; and a pair of 2,000-year old burial masks, seized in a police raid on a Florida arms dealer.
On Thursday, Hawass will meet with U.S. law enforcement officials in New York to receive several more items recovered in recent months. It is, he vows, just the beginning.
Hawass is currently threatening legal action against seven American museums that he says are holding at least 10 reliefs stolen from ancient temples at Behbeit al-Hagara in the Nile Delta.
One of the museums is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, which got a curt letter from Hawass last year informing it that the 4-by-3-foot pink granite slab in its gallery -- a relief depicting a sacrifice scene and the eagle-headed god Horus -- was stolen.
Museum officials say they are baffled by the accusation and have tried in vain to see what evidence Egypt has to support the charge.
"We bought the relief from a private gallery in New York in 1963, and it was documented in his collection as far back as 1944," said Cathy Morris. associate director of the museum. "If it really was stolen, we'd cooperate, but we can't just send it back because they want it."
Hawass is adamant. "It's a scandal that they continue to exhibit that relief," he said. "I'm going to take them to court."
Because national laws and international agreements on cultural property are unwieldy and inconsistent, legal action is often costly and protracted.
But the murky legal environment hasn't stopped Hawass from employing other measures. Two Western archaeologists, one British and one German, have already been barred from working in Egypt because of their efforts to defend convicted New York art dealer Schultz.
The threat of non-cooperation is likely to be a major weapon as he prepares to go after some of the high-profile antiquities that he wants returned to Egypt -- a list headed by the Rosetta Stone now held by the British Museum in London.
The black basalt stone, the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics, was found by Napoleon's army in Egypt in 1799 and later turned over to the British as part of the spoils of war. The British Museum intends to keep it.
"The Rosetta stone belongs in Egypt," said Hawass. "If they co-operate with us, we will co-operate with them."
Similar choices, he says await the Louvre in Paris, the Permagon Museum in Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which all have substantial Egyptian collections.
Hawass dismisses museums' contentions that he is trying to strip them of their Egyptian collections.
"We only want a few major pieces returned," he said. "Egyptian culture does not belong to us, it belong to everyone."
The issue is not black and white. Papyrus records make it clear that tomb robbing -- by Egyptians -- was a fact of life more than 3,000 years ago. For centuries, Egypt was so disinterested in its own heritage that virtually all archaeology in the country was done by Western institutions -- with artifacts dispensed in return for political favors.
"So much stuff has come out of Egypt for so long, that making any kind of a legal case for its return would be very difficult," said Ellen Herscher, chairman of the Archaeological Institute of America's cultural property committee. "That's really not what Hawass is trying to do."
Hawass acknowledges that even today, Egyptians play a role in the traffic in the antiquities trade. Shortly after taking over the antiquities council, he ordered a police sweep of the showrooms of Egyptian art dealers turned up thousands of artifacts -- 17,000 at one Luxor storeroom alone -- that had been excavated illegally in the last 20 years.
In January, he fired the Egyptian archaeologist he had appointed to oversee the antiquities recovery effort. He had been was linked to the seizure of 360 icons and statues were being shipped smuggled out of Cairo to dealers in Spain. The "antiquities" turned out to be fakes, but the archaeologist was charged with taking bribes to help export them.
Leaving no stone unturned, Hawass has even instituted an amnesty program for casual tourists who may have slipped something into their suitcase during a visit to the pyramids. Since 1952, Egyptian law has held that all artifacts -- right down to chips off the Sphinx's nose -- belong to the government and may not leave the country without a permit.
Soon, in fact, he plans to take the campaign into cyberspace -- posting pictures of missing or stolen items on the Internet.
"We're starting to get back some of the things that have been taken from us for so long," he said. "And people all over the world are beginning to get the message."
Date sent: Sun, 4 May 2003 02:04:35 +0100 (BST) From: P Boylan P.Boylan@city.ac.uk To: MSN firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is an informational update received earlier from Ambassador Limbert of the State Department's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, as well as a State Department statement announcing aid toward the protection and restoration of Iraqi antiquities and historical artifacts. With regard to the latter, also note that the examples of what can be funded is not an exhaustive list - this funding can be used for the protection and restoration of National Library manuscripts as well as Museum of Antiquities artifacts (how and when this aid will be distributed is not yet known).
Ambassador Limbert's statement
1.The National Library has been looted and burned, and the building is probably a total loss. The staff estimates, however, that only about 10 per cent of the holdings were lost, and many documents and books were taken to mosques for
2.The contents of the "Manuscript Center" (formerly known as the "Saddam Manuscript Center") are safe and well-defended.
US Department of State Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release April 29, 2003 2003/448
Statement by Richard Boucher, Spokesman
U.S. Contributes $2 Million to Protect and Restore Iraqi Antiquities
The United States is pleased to announce a contribution of $2 million to help protect and restore key museums and archeological sites in Iraq. The American people value and respect Iraq's cultural heritage. The funds will support specific cultural preservation needs to be identified in consultation with Iraqi cultural officials. The archeological and cultural heritage of Iraq documents over 10,000 years of the development of civilization.
Included in this contribution are funds to re-establish a U.S. overseas research center in Baghdad, support for development of the "Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk" by the International Council of Museums, and a searchable on-line database of images from the Baghdad Museum. The "Red List" will consist of categories of objects looted from Iraq and will serve as an aid in the interdiction and recovery of these objects worldwide.
At the request of Assistant Secretary Patricia Harrison, Maria P. Kouroupas, Executive Director of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee and Director of the Cultural Property Office of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is attending the second meeting of international experts to save Iraq's museums and cultural property today in London. The meeting is taking place at the initiative of the British Museum and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. ###
For further information on this message contact: Thomas W. Lentz IAMD 202 357 7047
UNESCO Contacts US On Visit To Iraq To Help Recover Looted Antiquities
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is negotiating with the United States on sending an assessment mission to Iraq early next month as part of its efforts to recover the priceless antiquities looted from Baghdad and other museums, the head of the agency said this week.
It was essential to establish a database of Iraq's cultural heritage as soon as possible to prevent trafficking in the looted artefacts, some of which dated back over 7,000 years, said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura
He said the negotiations were taking place at the highest level of the United States Department of State, and also with the occupying power in the field, and UNESCO was awaiting a reply. It was vital to establish the database to indicate what cultural goods should be put on the list of prohibited items for both the import and export ends of the illicit trafficking in Iraqi artefacts.
The database would be distributed to soldiers to help in recovering and protecting the antiquities, Mr. Matsuura added. Beyond Baghdad, he said UNESCO also hoped to visit other important cultural sites including Ashur, Nasara, Hatara, Masur and Basra.
UNESCO has already contacted the international police organization Interpol, the World Customs Organization and the International Confederation of Art Dealers following the looting of major museums, libraries and other Iraqi cultural centres, principally in Baghdad and Mosul. Mr. Matsuura has also asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to submit the question of illicit traffic to the Security Council for a resolution to impose a temporary embargo on the acquisition of all Iraqi cultural objects and to call for the return of such goods to Iraq if acquisitions or exports of this kind have already taken place.
UNESCO has hosted two meetings with experts, in London yesterday and in Paris on 17 April, as part of its efforts to recover the looted antiquities.
Looting of Baghdad's House of Wisdom stokes anger of Iraqis
BY TOM HUNDLEY Chicago Tribune
BAGHDAD, Iraq - (KRT) - Early in the last century, the British placed their imperial stamp next to the 800-year-old Abbasid Palace along the Tigris River: an elegant government complex of graceful archways, long vaulted corridors, lush gardens and a fine view of the river.
Later the buildings would serve as Iraq's first parliament building and King Faisal I's offices.
After the monarchy was toppled in 1958, the offices were converted into courtrooms. In recent years, much of the complex was taken over by the Beit al-Hikma - House of Wisdom - a kind of academy for Iraq's most distinguished academics.
On Friday it was looted in broad daylight, apparently under the noses of U.S. troops.
On Saturday, some members of Beit al-Hikma wept as they stood in the rubble of what once was their fine library.
The incident underscores the deepening resentment of many Baghdad residents toward their new American masters and their bewilderment at how an army that so easily swept aside the regime can have such difficulty in restoring some semblance of order to their society.
"You Americans haven't declared martial law. You haven't declared a curfew. You are the only power in Baghdad, yet you refuse to use that power. Why? Why?" demanded Shakir Al-Serrif, an engineering professor.
"We feel like the Americans have a plan to leave a civil war in Iraq," another man said.
The parliament chamber and part of the Abbasid Palace had been looted during the first spasm of violence after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, but Beit al-Hikma had escaped unscathed.
Last Tuesday, Amal Shlash and other members of Beit al-Hikma said they met with several senior U.S. officials in Baghdad, including Jay Garner, the retired U.S. lieutenant general who is in charge of setting up an interim government for Iraq.
"We told Gen. Garner and the others of the importance of this building. They promised to send security within 24 hours," said Shlash, a senior economist at Beit al-Hikma.
The security never came.
Three days later, the looters did.
They arrived at 10 a.m. Friday, about 30 of them, armed with assault rifles and grenades.
"They told us to leave the building or they would throw the grenades at us," said Salam Tuma, one of four maintenance workers who were attempting to guard the building. One of the maintenance workers had a pistol.
U.S. troops stationed at the nearby Defense Ministry building heard the commotion and came running. The looters scattered.
The troops stayed about 15 minutes and then left, according to Tuma.
At noon, the looters came back. This time there were more than a 100 of them. No U.S. soldiers came to the rescue, and Tuma and the three other guards fled.
The looters finished their work quickly. They hauled out furniture, office equipment, carpets, plumbing fixtures and chandeliers. Anything they couldn't carry they destroyed, including wall murals and three small presses.
Then they ransacked the library. As the distraught academics rummaged through the rubble Saturday morning, the anger and bitterness grew.
"Where is America the superpower?" asked Shlash, the economist who met with Garner days before the looting. "The battle of Baghdad was so easy for you. Why is this so hard?"
"The people are turning against you," warned Al-Serrif, the engineering professor. "I fear there are black days ahead. God protect you."
Posted on Sun, May. 04, 2003
Antiquities experts post online treasures of Baghdad museum
BY ROBERT W. DUFFY St. Louis Post-Dispatch
CHICAGO - (KRT) - The prestigious Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago is the center of an ambitious project to show the world, in words and pictures, what potentially has been lost in the sacking of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.
One of the principals in this endeavor is archaeologist McGuire Gibson, a veteran of almost 40 years of excavating and surveying the ancient civilizations of the Near East. He is professor of Mesopotamian archaeology, Near Eastern languages and civilizations at the Oriental Institute on the university's Hyde Park campus.
His office is Room 215 and the first impression is that it is a shambles. Crammed into the room a visitor encounters: Gibson himself at one desk; his assistant, doctoral candidate Alexandra Witsell; books shelved apparently at random, "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," by Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt, on a shelf over here, "The New Power Macintosh Users Manual" on top of a stack of books over there. The Oriental Institute holds the concession for the ancient site of Nippur in Iraq; a picture of its ziggurat hangs on a wall. "If we were allowed to go back tomorrow, Nippur is where we'd go," Witsell said.
On the top of one bookshelf rests a footlocker; a couple of suitcases on the floor add a suggestion of readiness to split from this roomscape, into Iraq, into a civilization about a dozen millennia old.
The initial impression is wrong. These cramped quarters and their disorder are a projection of the workings of a voracious intellect, a mind that accumulates massive amounts of seemingly unrelated ideas, facts, objects and impressions and distills them into an elegant and ineluctable understanding of truth, a quality sometimes described as genius.
Gibson - primary occupant of this office, called Mac by disciples and friends - has been in the news regularly since the war drums began their ominous rumblings last year and even more regularly and prominently since the sacking of Baghdad's - and the world's - most important collections of antiquities.
Week before last he was among the 30 or so experts who met at the offices of UNESCO in Paris to discuss the looting of the museums and libraries and to make emphatic suggestions about what should be done: Secure all monuments; prohibit the export of all antiquities; ban international traffic in objects of Iraqi cultural heritage; sound a call for the voluntary and immediate return of all stolen objects; dispatch a fact-finding mission to assess the damage; and facilitate international efforts to assist Iraqi cultural institutions.
Gibson returned to Chicago for about a week. Sunday he was in London for a follow-up on the Paris meeting. There is another trip planned to Germany. And as soon as possible, he wants to go to Iraq.
In advance of any such journey, however, Gibson and his colleagues at the Oriental Institute, which has "supported research and excavation in the Middle East since 1919," are at work on the Internet project that will launch photographs, drawings and descriptions of as many objects as possible in the collection of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad into cyberspace.
The aim is to broadcast knowledge of that museum's holdings widely, in hopes of obstructing their movement in the black market, preventing their disappearance or possible destruction and their return to Baghdad.
Gibson said the project developed after the looting began several weeks ago. First came a compilation of a list for the U.S. armed forces and anyone else who might come in contact with stolen museum property. Gibson said the first list was too long; the next effort was to provide a quick reference, a set of pictures for wide distribution.
Oriental Institute students were pressed into service putting as many images of objects as possible on the institute's Web site. You can see the results of this effort at www.oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/iraq.html.
There's no telling if what you see on the site is stolen or not. There's a trickle of objects coming back into the museum; power outages prevent a thorough investigation of the museum and an assessment of losses. There is clear evidence, however, that much is gone, and what is on the site not only shows potential losses but also visual clues to the kinds of materials owned by the National Museum.
The site offers a suggestion of what may be in circulation and is an alert for the public. It is not comprehensive. Currently, a huge, enormously ambitious project is making its way to cyberspace that aims to be comprehensive.
This project is coordinated by Clemens Reichel, a research assistant at the institute. It is to create an exhaustive and searchable database of the holdings of the National Museum. Although the scope of the project may expand at some point to include other institutions, the focus now is on the National Museum's collection. It is, one must add, mind-bogglingly large. In a book called "Treasures of the Iraq Museum," the first entry is a pair of hand axes in stone from 100,000 years ago. From there, the list goes on and on, naming objects from the civilizations that inhabited the Fertile Crescent.
There is no accurate number to assign to the collection; Reichel said it was probably half a million. Many objects have never been registered. And, he said, no one really knows how many objects have been lost. The number 170,000 has been used in discussions of the looting of the museum, but Reichel said that estimate might not include the museum's collection of cuneiform tablets, examples of the earliest form of writing, which numbers about 100,000.
"We just really don't know what has been taken, and before people come back from Iraq with primary information, we won't know," Reichel said.
But numbers are almost beside the point, given the enormity of this cultural catastrophe. As Gibson says repeatedly, the National Museum, its objects and records, is the key to a genuine understanding of the Near East. So now, every day, students and volunteers at the Oriental Institute are scanning in as many images as possible of the museum's holdings into computers. One obstacle is that some of the photographic material is under copyright and cannot be scanned without permission. But many images can be scanned and put online without ownership problems.
The project proved to be well beyond the capabilities of the OI staff alone. The University of Chicago's Network Services and Information Technology was pressed into service. The site is still in the works and not yet available to the public. But Reichel said it should be up soon, and the full version should be online within the next two weeks.
Another issue is perspective. Reichel acknowledges freely he approaches the problem from an academic point of view. "But for this purpose, we have to get away from that. The layperson is who should use this information." And he is concerned about speed: "It's not going to be perfect," he said. "But we need to get as much information as possible out now."
Gibson continues to stew about the events that necessitated this urgent creation of the Web site and the scan-a-thon. He and other archaeologists warned U.S. officials months before the invasion that looting of museums was a definite possibility.
The experts' concern was not without basis: After the Persian Gulf War, nine regional museums were looted and burned, and thousands of objects disappeared from Iraq into the hands of eager dealers and collectors in the United States, Europe, Asia - and the Middle East.
McGuire said that five days before U.S. forces entered Baghdad, he began e-mailing officials emphasizing the need to secure the cultural institutions. Because such security was not provided until too late, the museums and libraries were sacked.
"The whole thing is a disgrace," he said.
A conversation with Gibson was punctuated by the repeated ringing of the telephone. Following a conversation with an Iraqi connection, he put the receiver into its cradle and announced, "What a mess, what a bloody mess. There is no security in Baghdad. It is chaos."
Gibson hears all sorts of things. For example, he heard children were still bringing books out of the library despite assurances it had been secured. But he remains in the dark about what's become of objects moved south to Baghdad from Mosul in the north, a large city near ancient Nineveh.
He has heard that the records of the National Museum in Baghdad were not lost, as reported earlier, and worries that because of this news, some might feel that the OI's effort to put images and descriptions online is unnecessary. But it is necessary, he said: The world must be able to see what is missing_and eventually, to learn the good news about what is not gone or destroyed.
The University of Chicago is not alone in efforts to publicize objects that may have been looted from Iraqi institutions. Reichel said that other museums and universities across the country were working on various related projects.
"What has happened in Iraq is a tragedy," he said. "We do not want to exploit it. We do want to highlight the needs."
This work can also lay a solid foundation for a computerized catalog of the National Museum's holdings, he said.
"That would be one good outcome of the tragedy."
Interpol media release 3 May 2003
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to attend Interpol international conference on stolen Iraqi art on May 6.
Mr Ashcroft's speech will be open to the media
Journalists and editors have already been advised that Interpol is hosting a two-day international conference of police, experts and museum officials on May 5-6 to coordinate efforts to locate art and cultural antiquities stolen during the Iraq war.
United States Attorney General John Ashcroft is now a confirmed speaker. He will deliver an address on Tuesday, May 6 at approximately 10:30 a.m. The speech will be open to accredited media.
At approximately noon on Tuesday May 6, journalists will also have access to a small group of Interpol officers, and experts from UNESCO and the International Council of Museums, to ask questions about the conference and about the stolen Iraqi art.
All other events at the Interpol conference in Lyon are closed to the media.
The objective of the conference is to put in place a structure, resources and expertise for interested parties to work effectively together to solve this major crime and recover missing items.
One key proposal is to significantly expand Interpol's existing database of stolen art to include the thousands of other items now missing in Iraq. This would allow investigators, museums and art dealers around the world to have instant access to an inventory and description of what was stolen during the war.
Conference proceedings will be opened on Monday, May 5 by Interpol's Executive Director of Police Services, Willy Deridder. This will be followed by an opening address by UNESCO's Assistant Director General for Culture, Mounir Bouchenaki. Mr Bouchenaki's remarks will be made available afterward on the Interpol website.
For security reasons, a strict procedure must be followed for media access on Tuesday May 6. Media representatives wishing to attend the open session must contact the Interpol press office beforehand by email -- email@example.com. This email notification must include names of all journalists, cameramen and producers wishing to attend, and their passport numbers and/or French residency card numbers. The deadline for accreditation is noon Monday, May 5.
Media representatives must carry with them press credentials and passport and/or French residency cards when they arrive. They will be expected to pass through security procedures at the Interpol entrance.
The open portion of the Tuesday, May 6, conference session begins at 10:00 a.m, Lyon local time. Media are strongly advised to arrive by 8:00 a.m. in order to complete security procedures.
A final communiqué will be issued at the end of the conference proceedings on Tuesday, May 6, and this will be posted on the Interpol website.
Most museum artifacts found
U.S. says only 38--not 170,000--missing
By Christine Spolar Tribune foreign correspondent
May 5, 2003
BAGHDAD -- The vast majority of antiquities feared stolen or broken have been found inside the National Museum in Baghdad, according to American investigators who compiled an inventory over the weekend of the ransacked galleries.
A total of 38 pieces, not tens of thousands, are now believed to be missing. Among them is a display of Babylonian cuneiform tablets that accounts for nine missing items.
The most valuable missing piece is the Vase of Warka, a white limestone bowl dating from 3000 B.C.
The inventory, compiled by a military and civilian team headed by Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, rejects reports that Iraq's renowned treasures of civilization--up to 170,000 artifacts--had been lost during the U.S.-led war against Iraq. It also raises questions about why any of the artifacts were reported missing.
The looting seems to have occurred April 10-12, two days after museum officials fled the grounds amid a battle in which Fedayeen Saddam gunners entered the complex and began firing on advancing U.S. tanks.
In one instance, investigators found that intruders had taken some less-valuable artifacts from a storage room in the basement of the museum. That theft, in a little-known storage area, has raised suspicions that the thieves had knowledge of the museum and its storage practices.
Investigators armed with chisels and a sledgehammer broke through hastily constructed barricades Saturday to search several large storage rooms in the museum.
In one storage area on the second floor, they discovered evidence of a gunner's nest. From debris left behind, investigators concluded that a gunner was armed with an assault rifle and rocket-propelled grenades.
About a foot from the gunner's lookout was a hole punched through the wall by a 25 mm shell. Investigators surmised that the gunman fled after that single volley from allied forces.
Damage to the museum's administrative offices was extensive, with desks, wiring, fixtures and chairs hauled out by looters. Artifacts, apparently obscured in some instances by the rubble left by looters, emerged largely unscathed.
"There is no comparison in the level of destruction seen in the museum and that seen the administrative offices," Bogdanos said. "It's absolute wanton destruction in the offices. We didn't see anywhere near that destruction in the museum. [People] stole what they could use. ... They left the antiquities." Investigators, compiling information about what occurred during the chaotic takeover of Baghdad by U.S.-led troops, are concluding that little damage occurred to antiquities displayed at the museum. Investigators counted 17 display cases destroyed out of 300 to 400 cases. Many of the items apparently were removed before the looting.
In addition, investigators have counted 22 items that were damaged, including 11 clay pots on display in corridors. Most of those damaged artifacts are restored pieces and can be restored again, museum officials told investigators.
The most significant of the damaged pieces was the Golden Harp of Ur. But investigators determined that the golden head on the damaged antiquity, feared missing, was only a copy. Museum officials confirmed this week to investigators that the original head had been placed in a storage vault at the Iraqi Central Bank before the war.
The inventory was compiled after investigators examined five large storage areas in the museum Saturday to check for looting. Each room was lined with shelves holding plastic containers filled with envelopes of small, less-valuable artifacts, such as beads or amulets.
There was no apparent sign of forced entry to the storage sites, and the doors were locked when investigators arrived. Museum staffers told investigators they had no keys to the room, so investigators remain uncertain how entry was made.
Investigators found that the basement storage area, which held thousands of small items not deemed suitable for display, had been disturbed in one of the rooms. They broke through a cinder-block barrier to the room to find hundreds of cardboard boxes intact and about 90 plastic boxes, containing about 5,000 less-valuable items, missing.
A boxful of such items was retrieved about a week ago near Al Kut, investigators said, and it is likely that the intruders are attempting to move other such artifacts outside Baghdad.
Museums unite to tackle 'crime of the century'
A two-day meeting has begun in the French city of Lyonto discuss what has been called the 'crime of the century' - the massive looting of priceless antiquities from Iraq.
Tens of thousands of ancient treasures were looted from Iraqi museums after the fall of Baghdad.
When the curators of the world's major museums met last week in London they heard the acting director of the Iraq museum in Baghdad, Donny George, describe the systematic pilfering of its collection.
He said looters apparently targeted specific items for sale on the antiquities market.
To combat this, BBC radio reports Interpol, United Nations cultural agencies and the International Council of Museums are working to compile a computer database of the missing items.
But the work will not be easy, as even the records of Iraq's museums and libraries were ransacked immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi museum assembles list of lost treasures
LOOTING PROBE LAGS AMID SUSPICIONS THAT LEADERS WERE LINKED TO SADDAM
By Maureen Fan Mercury News
BAGHDAD - With about a week to go before he leaves Baghdad, the chief investigator of looting at the Iraqi National Museum on Sunday released a list of 38 missing items, including a 5,000-year-old Sacred Vase of Warka and a 4,000-year-old statue from the Old Babylonian period.
And as hundreds of museum workers returned Saturday and Sunday for a $20 emergency payment to tide them over until payment of their salaries resumes, investigators said the probe had been hampered by suspicions that the museum's top leaders had ties to Saddam Hussein.
``I know that both the affiliation and the perceived affiliation with the prior regime have hindered our investigation,'' said Col. Matthew Bogdanos, the deputy director of the anti-terrorist Joint Interagency Coordination Group. That is an 80-member task force of FBI, CIA, Drug Enforcement Agency, former Customs officials and others formed by U.S. Central Command after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The issues at the museum echo similar concerns about corruption throughout the country, as new political leaders, interim government officials and others talk of ``de-Baathification'' and how to repair a patronage system that has been loyal to Saddam's Baath Party for almost 25 years.
The museum's administrative offices have been stripped bare, a scene of ``absolute wanton destruction,'' officials said.
``Every single office, the door is kicked in. Every single office, the desk is turned over. Every single office, display cases are smashed, papers are strewn everywhere, videotape is pulled out,'' said Bogdanos, a New York City prosecutor and a student of classical antiquities. ``Most of the anger was manifested in the administrative offices and not in the museum.''
Many of the workers, already unhappy at not being able to enter the museum in recent weeks to collect wages, insisted that some of the museum's deputy directors were the only ones with keys and were, therefore, suspect, because the thieves opened a safe without damaging it. The workers also charged that the brother of one of the museum deputy directors was Saddam's minister of higher education and scientific research.
``All those people who are inside now, they are responsible for stealing these things,'' charged Laith al-Sanduq, 45, a manager of planning for the museum who said he used to be the museum's general manager and minister of culture.
Bogdanos would not confirm rumors and accusations, saying he did not want to cut off any avenues of investigation, which he described primarily as a recovery effort.
But, he said, ``all sorts of people have been coming forward and telling us that they're turning this over to the U.S. forces for safekeeping for ultimate return to the Iraqi people, and they specifically tell us they are not turning this stuff over to the museum staff. They have told us this time and time again.''
Among the more significant items returned are two slender vases from about 3000 BC and Bogdanos' favorite, a red ocher vase that dates to 5000 BC.
Still to be recovered or accounted for are treasures such as a necklace of agate beads, a marble statue of a goddess holding a palm frond and a decorated wooden door from the 12th century.
Alaa al-Dabakg, a museum surveyor, eyed the broken glass and dusty corridors as he came to pick up a crisp $20 bill, handed out by the museum's payroll manager to permanent museum workers with identification. ``It is enough pocket money for 10 days,'' Dabakg said.
He will have to return regularly to sign his name to show that he is still interested in getting his job back. ``It doesn't bother me to come every day or every week to sign. I am at home, with nothing to do.''