Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Portions of Baghdad museum now open - but is it a smart move?

The Baghdad museum was open for a few hours yesterday to some journalists and local politicians, and there are plans to open two of its 16 galleries soon. From The New York Times:
The museum still houses hulking centuries-old statues and intricately patterned stone panels, items too heavy for plunderers to haul off. Its most valued items, including pieces of Assyrian gold known as the Nimrud treasures, were saved because they had been sealed in crates and locked in a bank vault.

Yet on Tuesday, much of the museum’s collection remained out of sight. Many of the ancient heavy stone statues were covered in plastic. Dozens of glass display cases sat empty but for thick layers of dust. Workers were mixing epoxy in one gallery, the Assyrian Hall, where walls were lined with great stone bas-relief and little else. The 4,000 pieces that have so far been recovered remained in the museum’s underground vaults.

Ms. Eidan, who had recently said that two halls of the museum would reopen this month, said Tuesday that even if the museum was fully restored, she was not certain that the city was stable enough to ensure a safe reopening. She also lamented the illegal digging that continues at Baghdad’s 12,000 largely unguarded archaeological sites. According to Abdul Zahra al-Taliqani, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, thieves have stolen, and likely trafficked, 17,000 pieces from these sites so far.

The security issue is vital and not everybody is happy with its opening. From last week's Science:
But former director Donny George and other archaeologists oppose the reopening. "Opening any part of the museum is a dangerous move," says George. A U.S. officer in Baghdad recently told the American Forces Press Service that the military was eager to reopen the museum. "Can they really be sure that a suicide bomber does not go into the galleries?" asks Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York state.
This is a tricky issue. Without opening the museum they will have trouble getting funds for restoration efforts, but opening it may be too much of a risk.


hedge said...

I'm conflicted about this. The contents of the museum are priceless treasures, meaningful both because of their scarcity and their revelations about history. But what good do they do if nobody sees them? There are still people living in Baghdad- ought they not be able to live a little?

But then, bombers on both sides don't seem to particularly care what they ruin, so long as they ruin something. It's not like even *I* think a museum would be immune.

Also, Here is a webcomic you may appreciate.


Salman Hameed said...

Ha...I liked the comic! Of course,we all know that God is powered by irony - just ask Homer (Simpson).

Yes, people in Baghdad should have access to the museum. But I think safety of these objects should be paramount. It may take 2, 5 or 10 years to get to that point. But, these artifacts represent thousands of years of human history. From that perspective, a sacrifice of few years may be prudent.

But at the same time archaeological sites are still being looted and damaged by illegal diggings. So we have to prepared that some of our history may never be recovered from this area. It sucks!


hedge said...

It sucks!

That really does sum it up, doesn't it?


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