Most people measure the damage of war in terms of loss of life, injuries and the financial costs. But the Persian Gulf war is threatening to cause "cultural casualties" as well. Iraq and Kuwait are part of what was once known as Mesopotamia, which is considered by archeologists to be the "cradle of civilization." Tucked away amid the region's cities and buried beneath the desert sands are remnants of early civilization. As archeologists, including many from the University Museum, watch news of the war, they said this week that they worry the bombing raids and the ongoing ground battle may damage or destroy ancient artifacts. "Iraq is the core focus of Near Eastern archeologists," said University Museum consultant Theresa Howard-Carter, who is also chief advisor to the Kuwait Museum in Kuwait. Scattered across the flat lands of Iraq, tall archeological sites, called "mounds," stand next to modern cities. These huge mounds are the remains of ancient cities that once flourished as far back as 3000 B.C. Because Iraq is flat, experts said the military will likely take advantage of the high mounds for defense, thereby making the archeological sites obvious targets for the allied forces. "The top of mounds are the only places you can see anything from," Howard-Carter, who once lived in Iraq, said yesterday. "I could see 100 mounds from our house, and every one of them represents an ancient settlement." According to Associate Art History Professor Holly Pittman, nine mounds in Iraq have military installations on them and Ur, a rich ancient site and the supposed birthplace of Abraham, is in the middle of a major military installation. In addition to the ancient mounds, the Antiquities Museum in Baghdad, which houses some of the Near East's most treasured artifacts, is threatened by bombing. According to Richard Zettler, the acting curator of the Near East Section of the University Museum, some artifacts in Baghdad may have been damaged already. The Baghdad Antiquities Museum is located near Baghdad's main television transmitter and close to a bridge spanning the Tigris River. Experts said that both sites have been bombed during the war. Zettler said many contradictory reports have been circulating about the museum in Baghdad. "We heard the museum had been hit," Zettler said. "But two reporters in Baghdad said the museum had not been damaged." Zettler said the Baghdad museum's director recently announced that the museum had been damaged but is intact. Many of the movable objects were put in basement storage to save them from bombing, but many objects are too big to move or are built right into the wall of the museum, he said. Besides the destruction of ancient sites, archeologists worry about artifacts in Kuwait which have been looted by the Iraqis. "Within two to three weeks of the invasion, the Iraqis emptied the [Kuwait] museum of its contents and presumably took them back to Baghdad," said Howard-Carter, who left Kuwait Aug. 2. "But I heard that part of the Islamic collection was offered in auction in London," she added. The Kuwait museum opened in 1982 and consists of four buildings. Its primary collection, the Islamic antiquities, and other stored collections that had not yet been displayed were reportedly taken by Iraq. "Nothing else is left," said Howard-Carter. Only 114 objects of the 20,000 in the Islamic Antiquities survived because they were on display in Leningrad. On the battlefields of Kuwait and Iraq, the contributions University Museum archeologists have made to the study of the ancient Middle East may also be destroyed. In the past, University Museum archeologists have been leading contributors to the Baghdad museum. From the 1890's until the 1950's, University Museum archeologists excavated many sites throughout Iraq, and many of the artifacts from the digs are currently housed in Baghdad. For the first time in 40 years, the University Museum returned to the region last spring, joining a collaboration with the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University to study al-Hibe, a site in Iraq. But the research was stopped when the war broke out. All University Museum research in the Near East has been stopped, and in the future, American research in the Near East may be at a great risk, officials said. In the war's aftermath, it may be difficult for archeologists to work in the region when and if their research continues. "It will be difficult to go out and look around in the desert for things because it is mined," said Howard-Carter, who hopes to return to Kuwait if her help is needed. Officials said that many researchers from the University are distraught over the destruction of the artifacts they study. "Everyone is very upset by the potential losses of cultural heritage of Iraq," Zettler said. "We are asking the wrong questions when we tell the government to conduct war but not to hurt the artifacts." Zettler added that he feels the U.S. government is trying to avoid "cultural casualties." In the past, Saddam Hussein has gone to great lengths to preserve the ancient history of Iraq, experts said. According to an article written by University graduate student Tammi Schneider in The Orlando Sentinel, Saddam has gone as far as starting reconstruction of the Palace of Babylon in an attempt to make Iraq a historic tourist attraction.Comments powered by Disqus
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