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Oriental Institute Remembers History Lost in Iraq

By Sam Cholke | April 16, 2013 8:05am
 The Oriental Insitute will remember the 2003 looting of the Iraq National Museum of Baghdad.
The Oriental Insitute will remember the 2003 looting of the Iraq National Museum of Baghdad.
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Oriental Insitute/Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly

HYDE PARK — The Oriental Institute on Tuesday will mark 10 years since the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad, one of the largest collections of artifacts from the first human civilizations.

“The damage that was caused was quite dramatic and can’t be repaired,” said Jack Green, curator at the University of Chicago museum at 1155 E. 58th St.

Thousands of artifacts were stolen from the Baghdad museum in 2003 during the chaos after the United States invasion of Iraq. The Oriental Institute will hold a day of seminars and host an exhibit of priceless objects that have been recovered and those that remain missing.

It’s hard to even know what’s missing, Green said. Many of the records that documented the museum’s collection were destroyed during the war. Green said the Hyde Park museum is helping rebuild the catalog.

“In the Oriental Institute, we actually have photographic archives of the objects at the Iraq museum and we actually know what was there,” Green said.

He said the museum is holding the event to bring attention to how much evidence of humankind’s earliest civilizations was sold into the black market during the war.

“It’s incredibly easy to get a hold of objects, eBay is an incredibly easy way to keep an eye out for antiquities,” Green said.

He said he thinks the sale of stolen artifacts has slowed, partially because the market became saturated with stolen antiquities during the recent upheavals in the Middle East. He said he thinks the public is also becoming more aware of what is being lost by removing objects from their historical context.

“It’s become much more important to the public to come and see objects and get information because it’s part of everyone’s heritage — this is where writing was developed, where the first cities were built,” Green said.

Iraq was the center of the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian empires.

Green said an entire generation of archeologists at the Oriental Institute and other institutions is being lost because of the difficulty of working in Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

“There’s always hope that the Oriental Institute will go back to Iraq in the future, but not right now,” Green said.

The exhibit opens Tuesday, with a seminar from 2-4 p.m. on “Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: The Looting And Destruction Of Iraq’s Past.”