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Over 170,000 Ancient Artifacts Have Been Destroyed Or Stolen From the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. We Will Go to Baghdad and Oxford to Talk About What Was Lost

StoryApril 14, 2003
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It emerged over the weekend that 170,000 ancient artifacts housed in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad have been destroyed or taken by looters.

The New York Times reports the destruction of the museum is likely to be reckoned as one of the greatest cultural disasters in recent Middle Eastern history.

The National Museum recorded a history of civilizations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago.

Among the treasures lost or destroyed:

  • the world’s first written words. After surviving for more than 5,000 years, distinctive clay tablets from the royal tombs of Ur are gone. The tablets have cuneiform writing and are recognized as the root of all mankind’s written communication
  • the world’s earliest examples of mathematics, including calculations that have led to the modern system of timekeeping using hours, minutes and seconds based on the number six.

Museum officials are outraged at US troops for failing to protect the museum. For weeks before the war, archaeologists and scholars from around the world had warned the Pentagon about postwar looting. They reminded the Pentagon that after the 1991 Gulf War, 9 of Iraq’s 13 regional museums were plundered.

  • Philip Smucker, reporter in Baghdad the Christian Science Monitor.
  • Eleanor Robson, fellow of All Souls, Oxford, and a council member of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq.

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