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Statement read at the Workshop “The Threat to Iraq’s Cultural Heritage – Current Status and Future Prospects" (July 23, 2005)
(workshop sponsored by the Iraq Working Group of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, organized in conjunction with the 51st Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale)
The statement below was read by Michael Müller-Karpe, based on an earlier draft prepared for and read at the Rencontre's General Meeting on July 20, 2005. with editorial input from Clemens Reichel and Francis Deblauwe as well as others. Its was signed by 46 attendees of the workshop; as of May 3 2006, 45 more colleagues have requested for their names to be added to the list of signatures, bringing the total number of signatures up to 91. It is posted here as an item of information, not as an official policy adopted by the Oriental Institute. Scholars in the field of Assyriology and Mesopotamian Archaeology are encouraged to add their names to the list of signatures and / or to discuss this statement.
As scholars in the field of Near Eastern archaeology and cuneiform studies from five continents we, the undersigned, express our deep concern about the ongoing looting of archaeological sites in Iraq.
Beyond the fact that looting sites for artifacts constitutes theft, the destruction of archaeological contexts results in an irreversible loss of information. Since only marketable artifacts are retrieved during such clandestine operations, most other objects are destroyed, resulting in a tremendous additional loss of archaeological data.
The present circumstances in Iraq have set the stage for the unprecedented destruction of an archaeological heritage that represents the cradle of civilization for all mankind. It is the ever-growing demand for antiquities in a worldwide market, however, that provides the incentive for looting and illegal excavation. Insufficient legislation in many countries continues to guarantee the marketability of these stolen goods.
Countries which have not yet ratified the UNESCO conventions of 1970 and 1995 for the protection of cultural heritage are hereby urged to do so expediently and to implement and enforce effective antiquities laws. The traditional approach of limiting legal protection to items listed as “items of national importance” by their countries of origin must be replaced by a general ban on any trade in looted artifacts from illegal excavations.
Objects from illegal excavations often gain market value through scholarly assessments of authenticity, age and significance. Discussing or referencing them in scientific studies is likely to increase their monetary value, adding more incentives for clandestine excavations and thereby contributing to the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites.
Scholars are therefore urged to refrain from providing expertise to the antiquities market and to private collectors, unless the artifacts in question can be proven to be neither excavated illegally nor exported without permission.
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• List of signed names (in alphabetical order, academic titles and affiliations as provided or known to us):
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• Adding your name to this list:
Send an email to Clemens Reichel (firstname.lastname@example.org). Include your full name and academic affiliation. Also state if you have attended the workshop.
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• Discussion Forum:
Charles Jones, moderator of the Oriental Institute's IraqCrisis list, has agreed to host a discussion of the statement above. In order to participate in the discussion you need to subscribe to the list. All viewpoints are welcome; keep in mind, however, that IraqCrisis is a moderated list--keep your tone civil, your arguments to the point, and refrain from personal attacks.
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