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Deja vu struck University research associate Mitchell Rothman this semester. Twelve years ago, the archaelogist who studies ancient cultures in the Middle East was forced to cut short his archaeological research in Iran as a revolution erupted in that country. Now, the Persian Gulf crisis has forced him to cancel his planned trip to Baghdad. Rothman, who received his doctorate from the University in 1988, had intended to view artifacts in the Iraq Museum as background for a book he is writing. "I'll have to write the book without that information," Rothman said. "It's a loss to the archaeology community as a whole." Rothman is one of several archaeologists who have had to cancel trips to the troubled region this year as tensions rise once again in the area that many researchers have called the cradle of civilization. For Associate Art History Professor Holly Pittman, the recent conflict is only the latest obstacle to her research in Iraq. She resumed work in Iraq last May on a project that had halted 11 years ago at the start of the Iran-Iraq war. Although she had left Iraq for the summer, she was scheduled to return later this semester. "We were uncovering early third-millennium sacred architecture in a region where we haven't had any evidence before," said Pittman. "This is a major blow to the research plan. I can't predict when we'll be going back." In spite of the delay in the project's timetable, funding for Pittman's project is not in jeopardy. The project is funded in part by the University Museum in conjunction with the Institute of Fine Arts in New York. "We are still committed to sponsoring and to providing whatever help we can," said Richard Zettler, acting curator of the University Museums Near Eastern section. "The allocations work one year at a time, but there shouldn't be any problem with that." The Persian Gulf Crisis is only the latest in several disruptions of research that researchers say are common. "Archaeologists who have worked in the Near East are accustomed to this sort of thing," said University Museum research specialist Patrick McGovern. "Unfortunately, political policy often affects archaeological work." Because of the rapidly changing political situation, Zettler suggested that researchers are forced to become flexible in selecting their digging sites. "This is analogous to what happened in Iran in the late 70s," he said. "Researchers moved to different sites. They could pursue many of the same research questions whether they were working in Iran, in Syria or in Iraq." Other researchers, like Julie Rosenbaum -- a doctoral candidate in the art history department concentrating on the Near East -- are finding alternatives to travelling abroad. Rosenbaum said yesterday that she will concentrate much of her research on artifacts recovered by European archaeologists in the 19th century. She is, however, worried about the long-term consequences of the conflict that may result in the destruction of invaluable artifacts. "The worst thing about the war is that Iraq is now completely cut off and there's a tremendous amount of excavation to do," she said. Zettler also said he was concerned about the eventual effects of the war. "It's a question of when well be able to get into Iraq again," he added. "We're not so concerned about the field projects as about avoiding a war."

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