May 05, 2003

Baghdad's missing treasures: the saga continues

According to this article in the Chicago Tribune,* most of the missing artifacts have been found -- inside the museum:

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.

That's a different number than the 27 to 29 I've been reading elsewhere, but it is still a much lower number than 170,000.

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.

Of course, this is the US military -- I can hear the objections now: "Of course they'd say that and whitewash themselves!" It is taken for granted by certain persons that the US military 1) habitually lies, even about non-strategic matters like missing museum stuff, and 2) that they do so despite the fact that their every move in Iraq is now under a magnifying glass. Hey, it could happen -- but I prefer to believe that these investigators are telling the truth, despite their being members of the Evil Hegemonical American Military-Industrial Cabal.

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.

I told you, Office Depot or some place like that will make a killing if they open up in Baghdad. The Iraqis seem to be much more interested in getting their hands on office furniture than on clay tablets.

This will make people happy -- I hope:

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.

That would be the much-lamented "Harp of Pu-Abi." So no unscrupulous artifact-collecting millionaire is attempting to play "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" on it, that's good to know.

Cronaca is skeptical about the low missing artifact count, because, he says:

The fact is, recording and publishing objects receives low priority in any museum; money is always short, and it inevitably goes first to acquisition, preservation, and display. Few museums in the entire world have a significant portion of their records digitized, facilitating off-site backup. Museums in poor but archeologically rich locations often have skimpy records indeed -- all on paper, often without photographs, with the most minimal of descriptions.

Well yeah, but that sounds like a great opportunity for fraud and misdirection too. If, say, the "170,000" number was merely an estimate of everything in the museum, including boxed-up envelopes full of beads, shards, and other "less-valuable" (per the Tribune article) items, and there had been shoddy record-keeping to begin with, then one could sneak out a fair-to-middling artifact here, a less valuable one there, and even some of the showier pieces, and then during this oh-so-convenient looting (which included mysterious openings -- not break-ins -- of vaults that no one seems to have the key for; see the Tribune article for details) that happened during this oh-so-convenient war that had been publicly on the board for a year and a half.

But in any case, this probably won't make any difference in certain quarters. I am still of the opinion, as is John Dunshee (the post from which the link to the Tribune story was taken is that of May 5th, 1:07pm) that no matter how good the news is that comes out of this event, it won't matter, because the idea that "Americans allowed the looting" has already become the established truth. No one will care about the real truth. I can't wait for Oliver Stone's version of the fall of Baghdad -- it will purport to be "Finally! The Truth!" and be nothing more than a rehash of all the old, tired lies and canards, like his Kennedy movie.

*Registration-only, but I believe registration is free.

Posted by Andrea Harris at May 5, 2003 07:30 PM

If you take the nine items that make up that one display and count them as one, you're down to thirty items. All it takes is one more set two things from one display and you're back to the usually-mentioned number of 29.

You know, think of the conspiracy theories if it had turned out that 42 items were missing...

Posted by: HokiePundit at May 6, 2003 at 04:08 AM

Those retraction editorials from the NYT Corp papers will practically write themselves. Well they're going to have to write themselves since the Bush bashers are never going to give up the mileage they got on this one.

Posted by: Jack Tanner at May 6, 2003 at 02:52 PM

Hey, what's four orders of magnitude among friends?

Posted by: David Perron at May 7, 2003 at 02:35 PM