A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Protecting endangered sites in Iraq
As of this writing, a UN resolution has given Iraq 30 days to fully declare its nuclear and biological weapons programs. The UN's chief inspector has 45 days to get his teams on the ground and a further 60 days to report his findings. The resolution warns that Iraq will "face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations." No one can doubt what that means: as in the Gulf War of 1991, some of the world's most important archaeological sites are at risk. Among them are early city-states such as Uruk, legendary home of the hero Gilgamesh; Babylon, capital of Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.); the Assyrian palaces of the ninth through seventh centuries B.C., including Nineveh, which the Bible calls "a city great beyond compare"; and Hatra, with standing buildings of the second and third centuries A.D.
At the time of the Gulf War, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) passed a resolution expressing "its profound concern about the potential for damage to monuments, sites, antiquities, and cultural institutions as a result of war" and urging governments to work with the public and the scholarly community to protect these during conflicts. In the aftermath of war, it called on all governments to provide the resources "to assess the damage...and to develop and implement appropriate plans for necessary repairs and restoration. In the case of the looting of antiquities and works of art, detailed plans developed by trained experts should be made for the proper repatriation or restitution of such cultural artifacts." We reaffirm this policy today (see "Concern for Cultural Heritage in Iraq" for the resolution's full text), and will lend our help to the effort when and where it is appropriate to do so. AIA members and colleagues are already among those petitioning the U.S. government to exercise caution and providing it adequate information about the location of ancient sites to help protect them should a conflict occur.
With the New Year, my term as president of the AIA comes to an end. I welcome my successor, Jane Waldbaum. Now retired from her position as professor of art history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jane has had a distinguished career, excavating in Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel. Recently I asked her how she came to the field. "I was inspired to become an archaeologist by my parents, who were lifelong archaeology buffs and members of the AIA-New York Society," she recalled, "and also by my teachers in high school and college, all of whom encouraged me to follow my interest in the past as I decided what to do with my future." Under her leadership, I am confident that the AIA will continue advocating preservation of the world's archaeological heritage and inspiring future archaeologists.
Nancy C. Wilkie is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.