Archaeology Odyssey 6:5, September/October 2003

Editors’ Page: Ransoming Iraqi Artifacts

Plus more from the antiquities wars

By Hershel Shanks

Archaeology Odyssey

Soon after the National Museum in Baghdad was looted, I wrote op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal (April 16) and the Chicago Tribune (April 26) arguing that the only way to recover a substantial number of stolen artifacts, at that time said to be 170,000 items, was to buy them back.

For the archaeological establishment—the Archaeological Institute of America and the American Schools of Oriental Research—this idea is anathema. In their view, buying looted objects only encourages looting (presumably in the next Iraq-type war). Thus there was no support whatever from the archaeological establishment for what I was proposing. The legal counsel to Chicago’s Field Museum wrote a piece in the Tribune in opposition to the buy-back idea, saying that the only people who supported it were Donald Rumsfeld, Philippe de Montebello and Hershel Shanks. I was flattered to be put in such company. Rumsfeld, of course, as Secretary of Defense, is not principally concerned with archaeological matters. Philippe de Montebello is the distinguished director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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