Summary of "After the War: Culture; Global Network Speeds Plunder of Iraqi Antiquities” by Edmund L. Andrews
In just over two years, the world witnessed two crises that led to the destruction of cultural monuments, sites, and objects that are universally recognized as embodiments of the world's cultural heritage. In March 2001, the Taliban, who at that time were the rulers of Afghanistan, set about the intentional destruction of two monumental Buddha statues that had been carved into the cliffs at Bamiyan.
In a recent worldwide study on the nature, scope, and frequency of archaeological site looting, the vast majority of field archaeologists reported having had multiple encounters with archaeological site looters both on- and off-site. Despite the criminalization of looting in most countries’ domestic statutory schemes, nearly half of surveyed field archaeologists do not report looting activity to external law enforcement or archaeological authorities when they encounter it. The rationales for their actions—or inactions—are examined within a criminological framework, and field archaeologists’ perspectives on looters as “criminals” and “victims” are explored. That is, when archaeological knowledge is lost to looting, so is an important source of cultural information, national identity, historical memory, and even economy. Looting destroys both the tangible and intangible elements of cultural heritage.This impalpable value of art and antiquities is socially constructed, meaning an object’s value is whatever a particular beholder assigns to it, whether it be commercial, aesthetic, or artistic in nature. Beyond this common denominator of subjective value attribution, however, art theft and site looting are conceptually distinct, and it is only relatively recently that criminologists have begun to examine each phenomenon on its own terms.
As can be seen, the path that the United States chooses to take regarding the regulation of antiquities in Iraq will not be easy - regardless of the choice. Whether it chooses to establish a managed art market or continue the enforcement of Iraq's historical patrimony laws, nothing will bring back the thousands of priceless artifacts lost in the April 2003 looting. The Hague Convention states that the world owns cultural property in a collective sense. The ancient history of one nation reflects the history of many. When the United States failed to prevent the looting of antiquities in Iraq, it not only allowed the destruction of Iraqi art - it allowed the destruction of the world's history.