On Monday, the Iraq Museum in Baghdad reopened, despite controversy among the museum’s professionals and various government officials as to whether the museum was ready and could be adequately protected. Eight of the museum’s twenty-six galleries were opened, including a display of some of the artifacts looted from both the museum and archaeological sites in Iraq that have been returned to Iraq over the past six years.
A collection of news stories, photos (including one of a woman wearing replicas of ancient jewelry) and a video can be seen at: http://ancientworldbloggers.blogspot.com/2009/02/iraq-museum-open.html.
The story of the looting of the museum in April 2003 with the loss of about 15,000 objects is now well known, and the looting of archaeological sites particularly in southern Iraq (with the loss of perhaps hundreds of thousands of artifacts) has been documented through the satellite imagery studied by Professor Elizabeth Stone. Iraqi artifacts looted from the museum and from sites have appeared throughout the world, including most recently cuneiform tablets that were seized in Peru, reportedly on their way to the United States. Although surveys of a handful of better-known sites done last summer have shown that looting at these few sites has abated, less well-known and documented sites are still at considerable risk.
With the opening of the museum, Iraqi officials have announced the formation of a unit of trained guards to be deployed to protect these sites. Such protection, which is best carried out by Iraqi guards, is much needed and may help to preserve these sites for future study of the rich Mesopotamian past. The status of the reconstitution of Iraq’s other cultural institutions, the national library, archives and other museums in Baghdad and other cities, is not clear. But if the Iraq Museum can present professional displays, attracting visitors and providing security for its collections, then this is a hopeful sign that the reconstruction of Iraq’s other cultural institutions and the means to protect them will follow.