The Art Newspaper: Unesco inspection finds no evidence of recent looting in Northern Iraq

By Martin Bailey | From Web only | Posted: 18.12.08

LONDON. A Unesco mission has visited northern Iraq, with transport and security arranged by American troops. The specialists visited four key sites—Nimrud, Ninevah, Ashur and Hatra—and found no evidence of recent looting. This was the first Unesco inspection since the 2003 invasion.

The visit, which for security reasons was not publicised at the time, was from 18-25 November. Details of their findings were later released by Dr Suzanne Bott, a US State Department cultural heritage advisor based at Mosul, in Ninewa province. Unesco confirmed the mission had taken place, saying that it had been organised by the Provisional Reconstruction Team, a civilian organisation set up by the US Army.

The Unesco team documented “only minor wilful destruction, looting or criminal activity at the sites” since 2003. This confirms similar findings from a British Museum-led visit by international specialists to eight sites in southern Iraq in June (The Art Newspaper, July-August 2008, p.1,4).

Nevertheless, the Unesco mission in November did report that there was considerable evidence of looting in the 1980s and 90s, under Saddam Hussein. Early damage had been particularly bad at Ninevah, where the Sennacherib Palace reliefs were “almost entirely removed”.
Hatra and Nimrud showed “less extensive evidence of [pre-2003] theft and destruction but more severe signs of damage caused by water infiltration, erosion and neglect.” Unesco has pledged to repair two halls at Nimrud. Conservation of the remains at Ninevah was particularly poor. Overall, the team reported that “many of the exposed antiquities are deteriorating due to a lack of conservation maintenance and site stewardship.”

The two Unesco inspectors were Tamar Teneishvili (a cultural programme specialist based in Amman) and Sami Al-Khoja (a cultural heritage monitor based in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan). Assistance was provided by the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. No international experts in Iraqi archaeology were on the mission, as they had been last June for the southern sites.

Ms Teneishvili told The Art Newspaper that “a lack of daily maintenance always damages heritage sites”. This has taken its toll in northern Iraq, particularly because the ancient structures were made of limestone, sandstone and mud bricks.

The Unesco mission also went to Mosul, to visit the museum (the largest outside Baghdad). It was badly looted during the 2003 invasion and still remains closed. Unesco has pledged to assist the Mosul Museum with renovations, starting with the library and archives.

©2008 The Art Newspaper

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