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Good News from Iraq Volume 53 Number 4, July/August 2000
by Chris Hellier

The Iraq Museum in Baghdad, one of the Middle East's most important museums, has recently reopened its doors after being closed for a decade. Most of the museum's collection, comprising some 250,000 artifacts, was packed into crates and stored in secret locations to avoid possible theft or damage at the outbreak of the Gulf War. Core pieces from the collection, including Mesopotamian farming tools, Sumerian cylinder seals, and Assyrian statues of winged bulls, are now back on display with more pieces due to be added in coming months.

New to the museum are many pieces recovered from looted sites or recent excavations in Iraq. Following the Gulf War thousands of objects were stolen from provincial museums, particularly in the north and south of the country, and smuggled abroad. Iraqi officials have managed to regain at least some of the smuggled artifacts. In April, Rabi' al-Qaisi, director of the museum's Iraqi Antiquities Department, announced that he had retrieved statues and engraved jars from Switzerland.

The Iraq Museum is also displaying new finds. Rescue operations by the Iraqi government's Antiquities Service are under way in several locations including Umma in the southeastern part of the country, where archaeologists have found an imposing building, likely a Babylonian temple, and at Basmyiah, a hundred miles south of Baghdad, where ongoing excavations have recently uncovered cylinder seals including one with a representation of a tall figure, possibly Gilgamesh, king of Warka in ancient Mesopotamia. Work is expected to continue at Basmyiah until 2002.

Although funds for archaeological research remain limited in Iraq, the museum has recently raised salaries in an effort to attract and retain staff, some of whom left during the past decade. Foreign archaeologists are also beginning to work in the country again, notably an Italian team that since the end of February has been excavating at Hatra or Al Hadr in northern Iraq, the site of an important first- or second-century A.D. palace.

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© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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