Damn, damn, damn. I would so much rather have been wrong. According to The Washington Post, the count of artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Antiquities now stands at 6,000, and is expected to rise. That’s not counting artifacts stolen from other museums and known archaeological sites.
It’s a depressingly plausible-sounding story. The recent report that only 33 priceless artifacts and some 3000 lesser artifacts were stolen is looking culpably inoperative. The freeperati’s rush to publicize it, and demand apologies from those who criticized Rumsfeld et al., is looking worse.
Shall we sit back and see who prints corrections? Will we need more than one hand? One suspects the entire point of the earlier report was to get as much publicity as possible for the magic number “33”; and then, once they’d got it stuck in people’s minds, drop the story entirely. Many of the people who’ve heard that “33” won’t hear any subsequent versions unless the disinformationist conduits carry the story; or if they do hear them, they’ll assume that more accurate later estimates are those supposedly overinflated figures that were demolished by the magic “33”.
(Eighth bolgia, eighth circle, Andrew Sullivan. Canto XXVI. Just you remember.)Back to the story itself:
U.S. and Iraqi officials have confirmed the theft of at least 6,000 artifacts from Iraq’s National Museum of Antiquities during a prolonged looting spree as U.S. forces entered Baghdad two months ago, a leading archaeologist said yesterday.Looks like I guessed right.
University of Chicago archaeologist McGuire Gibson said the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement told him June 13 that the official count of missing items had reached 6,000 and was climbing as museum and Customs investigators proceeded with an inventory of three looted storerooms.
The June 13 total was double the number of stolen items reported by Customs a week earlier, and Gibson suggested the final tally could be “far, far worse.” Customs could not immediately obtain an updated report, a spokesman said.
The mid-June count was the latest in a confusing chain of seemingly contradictory estimates of losses at the museum, the principal repository of artifacts from thousands of Iraqi archaeological sites documenting human history from the dawn of civilization 7,000 years ago to the pinnacle of medieval Islam.
It now appears, however, that although the losses were not nearly as grave as early reports indicated, they go far beyond the 33 items known to have been taken from the museum’s display halls. Gibson said looters sacked two ground-floor storerooms and broke into a third in the basement. Two other storerooms appear to have been untouched. …
Looters broke into the downtown Baghdad museum and sacked it for several days in early April as U.S. forces toppled the government of Saddam Hussein and took possession of the Iraqi capital. U.S. soldiers were harshly criticized for standing idle as the looters rampaged through the building. …
Reporters and investigators arriving in the first days after the looting saw a virtually empty museum that had been thoroughly trashed. They assumed the worst, Gibson said, an impression that the museum staff did not seek to dispel.
In fact, the staff — anticipating possible looting — had spirited away a huge portion of the inventory, including almost everything portable in the display collection, and stashed it either in the basement or in off-site bunkers, Gibson said. Staff had also hidden a gold collection in a Central Bank vault during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and never removed it.
When U.S. authorities took their first close look at the damage, it appeared the finest artifacts had been “cherry-picked” by thieves with inside knowledge. Some U.S. officials suggested that staff members might have been complicit.“This was unfortunate” but easily explained, Gibson said. Bitterly offended by U.S. forces’ failure to protect the museum from the looters, staffers “were not going to give information on where things were,” he added.
Although the display collection lost only a few heavy, nonremovable artifacts that were either cut in pieces or ripped from their pedestals, the overall toll was much worse. Staff members began to inventory the museum’s five storerooms in May. Losses there numbered in the thousands.Previous posts on this and related subjects in Making Light:
Both ground-floor storerooms had been looted, Gibson said. One housed the study collection, while the other held shelved artifacts and about 10 steel trunks containing as-yet unnumbered material from recent digs. All the trunks had been opened and emptied, Gibson said.Two basement storerooms appeared to be untouched, including one containing most of the museum’s priceless collection of cuneiform tablets, Gibson said. The third had been breached, however, and contained “some of the most important stuff in the museum, including pottery and ivory inlays,” he added.
12 April 03: Loss. Initial reports of the looting of the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad.
16 April 03: Reading comprehension, and other problems. The lie that destruction was the necessary price of freedom. The lie that freeing the Iraqis was our primary aim. Freepi: apolitical opportunists. Why we might not mind the looting. Why this is all Donald Rumsfeld’s fault. The addictive rush of cheap moral righteousness. Ostensible reasons we went to war viewed as codswallop. Looting, and other civil disorders.
16 April 03: And this is evidence of…? Initial reports of the burning of the Iraqi National Library and Archives, and the non-search for WMDs.
21 April 03: Why it’s a bad idea to burn old libraries. Nyekulturniy!
13 May 03: Excellent good news. Reports that a surreptitious salvage operation by the library staff saved most of the National Library and Archives, no thanks to us. On being willing to die in defense of libraries.
13 June 03: Recursive museum updates. Reported losses lighter than originally feared. Looting continues elsewhere. Freepi not entitled to collect on any of this. Andrew Sullivan presumed to be in state of mortal sin.