U.S. military damages ancient city of Babylon
Published Mar 2, 2005 3:12 PM
Like the Hittites, Alexander the Great, and
the Greeks before them, the U.S. military has chosen to occupy the ancient city
of Babylon. Established almost 4,000 years ago and at 3.4 square miles the big
gest ancient settlement in Meso potamia, Babylon has been the site of decades of
In a recent report by Dr. John Curtis of the British
Museum on the impact of the military occupation of Babylon, archaeologists from
Iraq, Poland and Britain documented widespread and in some cases irreparable
damage caused by the U.S. military base.
The base was established in April
2003 just after the fall of Baghdad and the looting of the National Museum of
Iraq. It covers 16 percent of ancient Babylon, including areas inside the city's
Land mines have prevented an appraisal of the full impact of
the U.S. military's actions, but evidence of widespread damage is visible
throughout the culturally sensitive area.
Huge trenches totaling over
1,378 feet--some three to six feet deep and 13 feet wide--were dug through areas
that contain artifacts. Tons of material has been scooped out of its historical
context and used to fill sandbags.
Some of the artifacts including
pottery, bones and bricks bearing inscriptions from Nebuchadnezzar (1125-1104
BCE) can be seen in sandbags and other mesh containers.
Curtis' report, huge areas of the site have been leveled and "covered with
gravel, sometimes compacted and chemi cally treated, to be used as a helicopter
pad and to create spaces for vehicle parks."
Gravel now covers about
359,000 square yards. "All the gravel had been brought in from elsewhere and
will, of course, work its way into the archaeological deposits."
"Previously undisturbed" deposits "will now be contaminated."
paving stones along the Proces sional Way constructed in Sixth century BCE have
been crushed by transports of heavy equipment.
Molded brick dragon
figures in the Ishtar Gate were seriously damaged by a person trying to remove
pieces of the relief.
Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown and Root was
responsible for infrastructure at the base. It may, along with the U.S.
military, be responsible for much of the damage.
Some of the information
in the Curtis report is not new. Newsweek reported that Columbia University
Professor Zainab Bahrani visited Babylon in the spring of 2004 and was stunned
to see the U.S. military base there. Huge areas had been bulldozed. Blast walls
were constructed of relic rich earth. Vibrations from helicopters were damaging
ancient walls. (Aug. 30, 2004)
Other important archaeological sites around
Iraq have suffered from the war and occupation as well. According to a Jan. 24
Reuters report, U.S. military forces have been using the ancient minaret in
Samarra as a sniper's nest. Built over 1,100 years ago, the minaret was
extremely well preserved. Now the site "may lose its protected status" if deemed
necessary to oppose the Iraqi insurgency, according to U.S. military
spokesperson Maj. Richard Goldenberg.
Looting has continued to be a major
problem in Iraq. Millions of dollars go to unscrupulous dealers who trade in the
international antiquities market. Diggers at sites throughout Iraq sell items
for a tiny fraction of their true value.
Roger Atwood, the author of
"Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers and the Looting of the Ancient
World," reported that he was offered a cylinder seal for $200 that could fetch
$30,000 outside Iraq.
Sales of looted items are hard to track. Items from
Iraq appear for sale everywhere from eBay to well-known auction
Surveys of antiquities sales at Sotheby's and Christie's from 1958
through 1998 show that 90 percent of the items never appeared in any journal or
study, only becoming known when they appeared in the sales catalogue. Once a
stolen item is bought from Sotheby's or Christie's, it gains legitimacy and can
be sold at an even higher price down the line.
According to the 1954 Hague
Con vention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed
Conflict, "preservation of the cultural heritage is of great importance for all
peoples of the world and it is important that this heritage should receive
international protection." This Convention, which the United States signed but
never ratified, places the responsibility on the occupying power to stop any
criminal activity with regard to such artifacts and buildings.
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