Sunday, November 2, 2008

How Babylon was spoiled by war


Richard Holledge


November 1, 2008 Cyrus the Great of Persia captured Babylon in 539BC he must have been quite taken by the Hanging Gardens, the Tower of Babel and the palaces of cedar, decorated in gold and bronze.

Contrary to the standard operating procedure for invaders of his day and age, instead of laying waste to the place Cyrus set an example for the future by allowing his new possession to prosper, respecting its religion and cultural heritage.

Instead of shock, awe.

More than 2,500 years later, some of the surviving glories of what is considered to be the capital of the ancient world are to go on show at the British Museum, London, in an exhibition which opens on Nov 13. Visitors to "Babylon, Myth and Reality", will see 100 objects, predominantly from the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar (605 – 562BC), including glazed panels from the Ishtar Gate, one of the entries to the fabled city, and enamelled lions from the walls of the Processional Way.

These remains are almost mythical, but what might make an even more profound impression on visitors will be the section of the exhibition devoted to the reality of the five years since the Second Gulf War.

What it highlights is the "carelessness" of the troops who set up camp on the site of the ancient city in May 2003 and proceeded to cause incalculable damage to the ruins and the relics that lay beneath.

The exhibition has already been shown in Berlin and Paris but, surprisingly, neither capital made anything of this cultural tragedy. The British Museum, however, pursuing its now familiar, eye-catching policy of relating the past to the present, as it did with Persia in 2005 and the Emperor Hadrian earlier this year, is not afraid to mix politics with pottery.

John Curtis, the keeper of the department of the Middle East at the British Museum, visited Babylon before the invasion and several times since, in a flurry of dramatic helicopter rides and a border dash, complete with highway robbers demanding antiques at gunpoint.

"It’s the same as the other shows in that we look at Babylon and what it means to European thought and tradition," he says. "What makes ours different is that there is much more focus on Babylon today."

Mr Curtis was one of the first to ring the alarm bells about the post-invasion vandalism. Not a man prone to exaggeration, as long ago as Dec 2004 he nevertheless filed a report saying: "It is regrettable that a military camp of this size should have been established on one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. This is tantamount to establishing a military camp around the Great Pyramid in Egypt or around Stonehenge in Britain."

He listed the damage, including the digging of trenches, the building of a landing zone for helicopters that flattened the ground, deep ruts from vehicles and fuel leakage. Pieces of pottery and cuneiform inscriptions were found in banks of spoil and in the soil used to fill sandbags.

Nothing has happened since to change his sense of outrage.

"There is no excuse for what happened," he says. "It was totally unnecessary. I have asked for a full-scale international investigation into the damage done to the site during its occupation by coalition forces."

He has no time for the suggestion that this type of institutional vandalism is an inevitable consequence of war.

"The fact is that when Babylon was made into a military camp the war had already been won," he says. "I don’t think it was necessary to establish a camp there at all. Maybe they did it because it has the same strategic advantages that made Babylon a capital city in the first place – on the banks of the river, on an intersection of routes and on slightly rising ground – and it was in an area which lies 90km south of Baghdad which had already been fenced to protect the site, so it was very convenient.

"But there is obviously no special advantage in making a camp there, because when the coalition closed the base down at the end of 2004, after all the controversy about the damage, they were quite happy to do so, even though it was at the height of the insurgency."

It was not "political or deliberate", he believes. "I’m a great believer in conspiracy theories but in this case it was just incompetence."

The problem, he says, was that the coalition forces did not have archaeologists or other experts embedded who knew about Iraqi history or culture.

"That’s a retrograde step from even World War Two, when the troops in Italy and North Africa did have experts who were put to good use. It compares poorly with World War One, too, when there was much less destruction even though there were vast numbers of troops."

More than 30,000 British troops – mainly Indians – died during the Mesopotamian campaign in the First World War, fought against Ottoman forces led by German commanders and waged chiefly to protect British interests in one of the world’s first oil refineries, at Abadan.

Donny George, an Iraqi archaeologist who was director of antiquities in Baghdad before leaving the country in Aug 2006, after receiving death threats against him and his family, insists: "The invasion troops knew that this was the city of Babylon. I believe that the original decision to have an army there was to protect it but then they thought it was a wonderful place for a camp and, little by little, it was developed into a very big base."

He says that in April 2003, before the invasion, "American archaeologists gave the military the co-ordinates for thousands of archaeological sites. So they knew where they were, they had the names of the sites, everything. The damage could have been avoided."

For Mr George, the exhibition has an important message to convey: "It is very important to explain that whatever the aims of the military were, they have done this damage to the country. Not only to Babylon but to the history of mankind."

In addition to the destruction caused by the occupying forces, as many as 16,000 objects were looted from the Museum of Iraq in Baghdad alone, although about half have since been returned. Many were hidden away by Mr George in reinforced storerooms.

"I think the looting was organised," says Mr Curtis, "but I don’t think it was organised by western criminal gangs or the Mafia, as some have suggested, but by local sheikhs and their tribes.

"It’s a huge problem trying to track the artefacts down. We don’t have much information about how much was dug up, who was doing the selling, how things were transmitted abroad and which market things ended up in."

Since Dec 2004 the site has been protected by elements of the Iraqi paramilitary Facilities Protection Service but, says Mr Curtis, "The damage has been done. It has taken until now for a proper assessment to be agreed on and we are waiting for Unesco to draw up a management plan so that things can be put right."

The US Senate has allocated some money and there is a proposal that the World Monuments Fund and the Getty Foundation should become involved. Nevertheless, "it will all take a long, long, time", says Mr Curtis.

The Babylon exhibition itself is, of course, steeped in irony; that it is possible at all is thanks only to what amounts to European looting from another age. There are some valuable finds still in Baghdad, such as glazed brick panels, tablets, terracottas and jewellery, but they are, inevitably, trapped in Iraq and cannot form part of any exhibition staged abroad. Consequently, everything in the show will have come from the collections of the Louvre in Paris, the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin and the British Museum.

In May 2002, the Iraqi archaeological department demanded that artefacts removed by German archaeologists at the beginning of the last century should be returned. Mohammed Aziz Selman al Ibrahim, an official of the ministry of culture, said at the time: "I have anger, but what can we do? I appeal to the German government to give back our antiquities to Iraq." Nothing was forthcoming.

Much of the Ishtar Gate, excavated between 1899 and 1914, was lifted and taken to Berlin, where it was reconstructed in 1930 and where it stands today. The Germans took many other treasures, including all but two of the 120 golden lions on the friezes which lined the Procession Way. Both the French and British also removed the spoils of their excavations.

Having created Iraq, which became a state in Nov 1920, the British imposed a monarchy on the new country but retained control until the Thirties. Under the country’s first Antiquities Law of 1922, it was decreed that foreign archaeologists should split their finds 50-50 with Iraq. Nevertheless, the proceeds of excavations by the colonial powers were often removed in bulk – such as the two shiploads said by some to have been removed by Gertrude Bell, the British archaeologist and political officer, and which allegedly ended up in Britain.

Bell was a vivid character who worked with TE Lawrence and the British government’s Arab Bureau to create Iraq out of the post-First World War carve-up of the Ottoman Empire. In a letter home, written as she worked on creating the new borders imposed on the region by the victorious western allies, she wrote: "I feel at times like the Creator about the middle of the week. He must have wondered what it was going to be like, as I do."

The consequences of her "creation", of course, reverberate today.

Nevertheless, Bell had a genuine love for the region and its history, and founded The National Museum of Iraq, an act that helped to make her an object of veneration to some when she died in Baghdad in 1927.

In her life she had encouraged the youthful nation to exploit the glories of Babylon as part of a British-orchestrated exercise in nation building.

Saddam Hussein also understood Babylon’s symbolic value and in 1985 started rebuilding the city on top of the ruins. To the dismay of archaeologists, he inscribed his name on many of the bricks in imitation of Nebuchadnezzar, and in glorification of himself. The inscriptions proclaimed: "This was built by Saddam Hussein, son of Nebuchadnezzar, to glorify Iraq".

"My complaint about Gertrude Bell," says Mr Curtis, "is that she is one of the great imperialists and the notion of drawing lines through the map to create new countries irrespective of tribal allegiances or history has led to a lot of the problems we have today."

Nonetheless, despite the mistakes of empires – past and present – he is cautiously optimistic that, like him, visitors will come away from the exhibition with the feeling that things will improve for Iraq.

Mr George, speaking from his exile as visiting professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York, says: "I believe that this kind of exhibition and the material that is being shown will help to show people that Iraq is not a desert, not a place where people live in tents and have camels, but a great civilisation."

:: Article nr. 48443 sent on 02-nov-2008 07:46 ECT

Also see: Audio Slideshow: 'Babylon' - myth and reality


You may want to take the time to read a very insightful commentary by DR. KWAME OPOKU in the comments of this post.



    Processional Way, Detail: Striding lion, Babylon, Irak, 6th century BC, clay tiles, baked and glazed in various colours © Vorderasiatisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Photo: Maximilian Meisse. The striding and perhaps, growling, lion is surely an appropriate symbol for the power and influence of the three countries, France, Great Britain and Germany at the time that most of the valuable cultural objects were removed from Mesopotamia and other parts of the world.

    The objective of the current exhibition (26 June -5 October 2008) in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, entitled “Babylon: Myth and Truth”, is, according to the official website, to explore the myth of Babel and the true facts surrounding the ancient city of Babylon: two worlds - one exhibition. (1) A related Babylon exhibition has already been held in Paris (14 March - 2 June 2008) and another one will be held in London (13 November 2008 - 15 March 2009). The legends and symbolism arising from the myths of Babylon - Sodom and Gomorrah, myths of unrestrained hedonism, Tower of Babel - linguistic multiplicity and confusion, imprisonment and racial oppression, are no doubt very interesting and important and will be discussed by many commentators on the exhibition. Not all visitors to the exhibition may be aware that Bob Marley and the Wailers, echoing Rastafarian beliefs and reflecting the views of many Africans and people of African descent, designated as Babylon the oppressive economic system and political hegemony of the West:
    “Yeah, we've been trodding on
    The winepress much too long
    Rebel, Rebel
    We've been trodding on the
    Winepress much too long, Rebel” (2)

    Bob Marley and the Wailers, Babylon by Bus,1978

    Our interest is in what, for lack of a better expression, may be called the cultural property relations arising from the retention of objects that have been admittedly removed from Mesopotamia/Iraq and neighbouring States. These States are paradoxically, now under enormous pressure from those very States that are keeping their cultural objects. The one is occupied and the other is under threats of invasion. The Babylon exhibition, like the Benin exhibition, will undoubtedly give further impulse to the discussions on the restitution of cultural property, irrespective of the intentions or wishes of the organizers. It is to this discussion that we would like to contribute, leaving the other issues for the specialists.

    Already, all those who have seriously commented on the Berlin exhibition have alluded to the fact that most of the objects displayed, insofar as they are not replicas, are of contestable legitimacy and legality. Many of the objects derived from the early 19th century when much of the area of Mesopotamia and neighbouring regions were not independent and the so-called partage system, much beloved by supporters of the “universal museum”, was applied. It enabled European and American States and their archaeologists to stow away much of the cultural property of Asia, African and Latin America to Europe.(3)

    A remarkable aspect of this exhibition is the fact that it has been organized by the National Museums in Berlin, jointly with the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London, three of the major museums in Europe that have benefited tremendously from the partage system of the past and are now facing demands from several Asian and African countries for restitution of their cultural objects that have been illegally or illegitimately taken away. Egypt is requesting the bust of Nefertiti, now in the Altes Museum, Berlin and the Rosetta Stone, now in the British Museum, London and the zodiac ceiling painting from the Dendera Temple, now in the Louvre, Paris. Also on the Egyptian list are the bust of Ankhhaf (the architect of the Chephren Pyramid in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), and the statue of Hemiunu, nephew of the Pharaoh Khufu and builder of the largest pyramid, in Pelizius Museum, Hildesheim, Germany.

    It should be recalled that the Musée du Louvre and the State Museums in
    Berlin, were signatories of the infamous Declaration on the Value and Importance of Universal Museums (2002) initiated by the British Museum but not signed by the venerable museum. (4) By this Declaration, the major museums declared their intention of not returning to the so-called “source countries” their cultural objects which had been removed in the past and are now in American and European museums.

    Bernhard Schulz wrote in an article “Wem gehört die Antike?” that in the present exhibition, the original of the Hammurabi Code which is in Louvre was not sent to Berlin.(5) Instead, a replica was exhibited, indicating that the original is in Louvre. The commentator raises the question whether the average visitor to the exhibition would have noticed that this was a replica if he or she had not been informed. He also wonders whether this would have reduced the value of the knowledge or the experience gained through the exhibition. This of course raises the fundamental question whether European and American museums really need the originals of all the stolen cultural objects in the museums. They have had enough time to make good replicas of the objects. If the aim of the museums were only educational, surely the replicas would be enough. There is, in retaining the stolen cultural objects of other peoples, an element of domination, a demonstration of power and might which cannot be ignored. The mighty ones are saying, we have your most cherished cultural and religious objects and we are not giving them back to you. If you are strong enough, come and get them. It is no accident that the countries retaining foreign cultural objects have also been the most powerful in the past and are still powerful. Did anyone ever hear of a weak African or Asian country retaining a cultural object of the French, British, Germans or the Americans and refusing to return them despite repeated requests?

    Bernhard Schulz mentions in his article that the Hammurabi Codex was brought to Paris in 1901 as “excavation piece” (“Ausgrabungsstück”). It had been discovered in the old Persian town of Susa, now in Iran and asks whether it should be returned there. His answer is no. According to him, 600 years after the Codex had been established, the Alamites had robbed the codex from Babylon and brought it to their capital Susa. The Hammurabi Codex is, according to Schulz, the oldest known example of looted art, which, “incidentally is in history the most frequent practised form of acquisition and at the same time the appreciation (“Wertschätzung”) of foreign culture.”


    Ishtar Gate and façade of the Throne Room. Babylon, Irak, 6th century BC
    clay tiles, baked and glazed in various colours, now in Pergamon Museum, Berlin,(6)

    Schulz’s statement is truly remarkable. The Hammurabi Code should not be returned from Paris to Susa because it had been taken previously from Babylon. To start with, taking a cultural object from Babylon to Susa is surely not the same as taking the object from Susa to Paris. The circumstances of the removal from Babylon to Susa surely cannot be compared to those surrounding the removal from that area far away to a foreign culture and land. In any case, to argue that one should not return a stolen item because the dispossessed holder had himself stolen it in the first place is a morally objectionable argument. How would European courts react if Africans, Asians and Latin American started removing objects from European and American museums on the ground that the items had been stolen in the first place? Stealing from a thief is still stealing. Once again the supporters of the retention of stolen cultural items in European museums display their moral bankruptcy by such arguments. We may recall the case of the Tonalamad Aubin where a Mexican journalist José Luis Castaneda de Valle removed in 1982 an ancient 18 page Aztec codex from the Bibliothèque National in Paris and took it back to Mexico where it was handed over to the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia. The French requested the return of the codex. The defence of Mr Castenada was that he had recovered part of Mexico’s cultural heritage which had been taken away from the country a century ago by the Spanish conquerors. A wave of nationalism emerged from this case and the French still have not got it back. (7) Do we want to encourage such actions?

    With time of course, these stolen cultural objects have become magnets of attraction for millions of tourists to the countries holding them and despite the rhetoric on these objects belonging to the “heritage of mankind”, there is no sign that the holders are prepared to relinquish this profitable source of income. On the contrary, the rich countries are continuing to steal more cultural objects from wherever they can. The looting of Iraqi cultural objects is too recent to forget even in this era of short memory. Important European and American museum directors and others are still insisting on a right to retain these cultural objects as part of the heritage of mankind. James Cuno, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, continues to defend this line of thinking even though many intellectuals have objected to this policy. Cuno has in his recent book, Who owns Antiquity? defended this position and has been massively criticised. (8)

    Another argument which has been presented by some commentators on the Babylon exhibition, including Bernhard Schulz, is that an object of research such as the Ischtar Gate is the achievement of German archaeology as well as part of the German identity. This is a very interesting argument. Will the Germans claim some of the buildings by German architects in Beijing as part of the German cultural identity? Will they claim some of the innovations by Karl Lagersfeld in the Parisian haute couture as part of the German cultural identity? Will the various constructions in the rich Arab countries become part of the German identity? Will the Americans claim some of the achievements of their scientists as part of their cultural identity? What about the non-American scientists and scholars who may have been involved in researches that enabled the final breakthroughs? It is evident that those supporting the retention of the cultural objects of others will use every argument, tenable or not, to support their retention. The absurdity of claiming as part of German cultural identity the discovery or excavation of the cultural objects of others is too obvious to require further elaboration. The Germans have an expression: “sich mit fremden Federn schmücken” meaning to take credit for the efforts of somebody else. There is no doubt that these artecrafts and objects were by the Babylonians and not Germans.

    It may be recalled in this connection that the Germans are demanding from the Poles some precious documents, including hundreds of scores and music manuscripts of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach that the German brought to Poland to protect them from the air-raids over Berlin in late 1943 and early 1944. The Nazi regime was occupying Poland at this time. Since the end of the war, the Germans have requested restitution but with little success. The Poles are expecting payment for damages caused by the German occupation, including the destruction and looting of Polish cultural objects. Would the Germans accept that the objects they claim have become part of Polish identity? Would the objects not qualify as part of Polish culture under the prescription of the Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums? Given the extremely complicated and involved nature of Germano-Polish relations and the fact that both Germany and Poland are members of the European Union, could one not envisage a European Museum in Poland where all such objects could be placed? (9)

    In any case, whilst the German are asking for restitution from the Poles, they may wish to consider restitution of the Benin bronzes to the Nigerians. Bernhard Schulz has stated that among claims for restitution, that for the Benin bronzes is not as popular as that for the bust of Nefertiti or the Pergamon Altar. The reasons are not far to find. Until the recent Benin exhibition in Vienna, Paris, Berlin and Chicago most of the Benin bronzes had not been displayed by the holders. There are still a lot of these objects which were stolen by the British in the 1897 invasion which have not been shown to the public. Like the majority of African artefacts in the European and American museums, they are spending their lonely, sad and foreign sojourn in the dark corners of the cold depots of European and American museums. They were not created for this existence. They were destined for a much brighter and hopeful future in the societies where they first saw the light of the day. This uncared for existence gives the lie to the claim of the infamous Declaration on the Importance and Value of the Universal Museums that:

    “Over time, objects so acquired—whether by purchase, gift, or partage—have
    become part of the museums that have cared for them, and by extension part of the heritage of the nations which house them.”

    It is possible that the use of a replica of the Hammurabi Code in the present exhibition may be explained on the ground that it is not allowed by rules of the Louvre for such objects to travel because of the weight or other technical problems involved. It could also well be that the strategists at the Louvre, with the agreement of their colleagues from the British Museum and the State Museums in Berlin, have come to the conclusion that in view of the requests by Egypt for Nefertiti, Zodiac ceiling panting and the Rosetta Stone, it would be wise not to let this code travel so that a future argument based on technical or conservatory reasons is not weakened. However, it seems odd that objects that were able to travel in the olden days when transport methods and packing facilities were not very advanced, cannot
    travel in our days despite all the enormous progress made in transportation.

    Hammurabi Code, back side, Babylon, Irak, now in Louvre Paris.

    However Western museums and their supporters present the issue of the looted/stolen cultural objects, it cannot be denied that the justifications they might have had in the days when Western imperialism reigned supreme, are no longer acceptable. There is no doubt that from a moral point of view, the retention of the cultural objects of other peoples against their will is not conducive to better and friendly relations between peoples. Most of these stolen objects are lying in the dark depots of Western Museums which have more objects than they can display. Most persons in Europe and America are not aware of the stolen treasures in their towns and the argument that these African, Asian and Oceanian artefacts have become part of the culture of Europeans and Americans, as the infamous Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums tries to make us believe, is simply not true.

    The Germans must admit that Nefertiti brings them more tourists and that they are not ready to forgo this additional source of income. The British must also accept that the Rosetta Stone brings them an enormous amount of visitors. The French should not pretend that the Hammurabi Code is not a great tourist attraction. But will the Europeans be willing to share the benefits with the original owners?
    The Germans and the British cannot demonstrate any cultural need of their peoples for the Benin bronzes but they hang on to them because these artefacts are now selling for record sums. The British Museum has in the past sold some Benin bronzes. (10)

    The invasion of Iraq by US forces and the occupation by allied armies has led to incalculable cultural losses by Iraq. (11) Not only was the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad the scene of plunder with occupation soldiers looking on and not preventing looting but many archaeological sites have also been plundered with subsequent losses which cannot yet be estimated. The occupying forces have even set up their military base at Babylon and dug trenches at archaeological sites. So much for the respect of the West for culture and cultural property. Needless to say, the leading occupation forces come from countries which have not even bothered to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. One therefore cannot even accuse them of not observing the prescriptions of the convention which were intended to preserve cultural objects from destruction in case of armed conflict. How much respect modern States attach to culture, can be deduced from their actions or lack of actions regarding the various international conventions and protocols in this domain.

    Ironically, the invasion of Iraq makes it possible for the same nations that robbed that land of its cultural property in the 19th century to intensify now the depletion of cultural objects through destructive military action and the transfer of objects to the free market in the West. through looting and stealing. It appears even that efforts were made to obtain artefacts from Iraq for the Babylon exhibition in Paris but that the military and security situation in the country made this impossible. The Prime Minister of Iraq visited the exhibition in Paris. He probably had no choice and it would be interesting to see how the Iraqis will view this visit when they have time to think about cultural matters.

    Whilst Western States are praising in exhibitions in Paris, Berlin and London, the achievements of civilizations in Mesopotamia (Iraq) and emphasizing their importance for Western civilization, under the leadership of Western armies, massive destruction of archaeological objects and sites is going on unabated. James Cuno and others would probably see in this justification for “universal museums”
    since the Iraqi cultural objects in London, Paris, Berlin and in the USA have been spared the looting and destruction that have befallen similar objects in Iraq. But is this not cynicism at its worst?

    The Babylon exhibition underlines the very strong solidarity and coordination among the “holding countries”. Exchange of ideas and loans of objects do not seem too difficult for France, Britain and Germany. This contrasts sharply with the lack of solidarity and coordination amongst most of the so-called “source countries” although of recent, Greece and Italy have strengthened their relations in this respect. There is still no wide cooperation that would include Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Turkey, Kenya, Mali and others with claims to restitution against the “Big Three”. There is up to now no comprehensive answer from these claimants to the infamous Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums (2002) even though the Declaration amounts to a general denial of their rights to recovery. It is interesting to note that the Declaration seeks to impose a modus operandi requiring that each case be examined on its own, case by case. But on the contrary, the interest of the holders is protected by general pronouncements. Thus it would take ages before all the cases of restitution can be solved since there are thousands of objects involved. The consequential delay involved in such an approach amounts to denial of justice. Take the case of the thousands of Benin bronzes seized by the British Army in 1897. Not a single one has been recovered to date. How much longer are we expected to wait by the case by case method? The claimants must state their case, based on general principles contained in the various UNESCO and United Nations resolutions that would require agreement in principle from the holding States to return all unlawfully and illegitimately held cultural objects. (12)

    The Babylon exhibition has demonstrated, if nothing at all, the enormous wealth of cultural artefacts that the French, Germans and the British have taken from the Middle East. They have thereby deprived those countries of objects that might have
    been needed for the historical records of their cultures. How would the Germans feel if the Brandenburg Tor were to be in Babylon or Baghdad? Would the French be amused if the Arc de Triomphe were to be in Bamako? Would the British regard it as normal for the Nelson Tower at Trafalgar Square to be in Accra? Many Europeans have sharply criticised some leaders in the region for pretending to be successors to the great ancient leaders of Mesopotamia. But whose steps are the European museums following by hoarding the cultural artefacts of others? Should the 21st century not be a more enlightened one than the 19th and 20th centuries? Our period should be the age for restitution.

    Kwame Opoku.



    2) Babylon System
    We refuse to be
    What you wanted us to be;
    We are what we are:
    That's the way (way) it's going to be .If you don't know!
    You can't educate I
    For no equal opportunity:
    (Talkin' 'bout my freedom) Talkin' 'bout my freedom,
    People freedom (freedom) and liberty!
    Yeah, we've been trodding on the winepress much too long:
    Rebel, rebel!
    Yes, we've been trodding on the winepress much too long:
    Rebel, rebel!

    Babylon system is the vampire, yea! (vampire)
    Suckin' the children day by day, yeah!
    Me say: de Babylon system is the vampire, falling empire,
    Suckin' the blood of the sufferers, yea-ea-ea-ea-e-ah!
    Building church and university, wo-o-ooh, yeah! -
    Deceiving the people continually, yea-ea!
    Me say them graduatin' thieves and murderers;
    Look out now: they suckin' the blood of the sufferers (sufferers).
    Yea-ea-ea! (sufferers)

    Tell the children the truth;
    Tell the children the truth;
    Tell the children the truth right now!
    Come on and tell the children the truth;
    Tell the children the truth;
    Tell the children the truth;
    Tell the children the truth;
    Come on and tell the children the truth.

    'Cause - 'cause we've been trodding on ya winepress much too long:
    Rebel, rebel!
    And we've been taken for granted much too long:
    Rebel, rebel now!

    (Trodding on the winepress) Trodding on the winepress (rebel):
    got to rebel, y'all (rebel)!
    We've been trodding on the winepress much too long - ye-e-ah! (rebel)
    Yea-e-ah! (rebel) Yeah! Yeah!

    From the very day we left the shores (trodding on the winepress)
    Of our Father's land (rebel),
    We've been trampled on (rebel),
    Oh now! (we've been oppressed, yeah!) Lord, Lord, go to ...

    The song, Babylon System, is not in the album Babylon by Bus (1978) as one may be tempted to expect but is in the album Survival (1979)

    Survival, Bob Marley and the Wailers (1979)

    Babylon System can also be heard on You Tube

    3) James Cuno, a vehement supporter of the partage system who has actually called for a return to that system, has some very interesting remarks on partage in his book,, Who Owns Antiquity, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2008:

    “The question then is: should the fate of the archaeological record-and of antiquities alienated from their archaeological context-remain under the jurisdiction of national governments? Is there an alternative? Yes. And it was once in place and encouraged the scientific excavation of the archaeological record and the preservation and sharing of ancient artifacts between local governments and international museums. It is called partage. Under that policy, foreign-led excavation teams provided the expertise and material means to lead excavations and in return were allowed to share the finds with the local government’s archaeological museum(s). That is how the collections of archaeological museums at the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard and Yale Universities were built; as well as important parts of the collections of the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was also how the collections in archaeological museums in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Turkey were built. Foreign museums underwrote and led scientific excavations from which both the international archaeological and local political communities benefited. While local tensions increased over time as nationalist aspirations took hold, partage served both communities well. It was only with the flood of nationalist retentionist cultural property laws in the second half of the twentieth century that partage all but disappeared. The collections of the university museums mentioned above now could not be built, and the directors and faculty curators of those museums, many of whom are the loudest proponents of national retentionist patrimony/cultural property laws.could not teach and research as they do now. Much of their work is dependent on a policy no longer legal in the countries with jurisdiction over the archaeological materials they study.” pxxxiii (Preface).

    It is interesting to note that in an earlier version of this text, Cuno had written:

    “This is how the great Ghandaran collection got to the Musée Guimet in Paris (shared with Afghanistan), the Assyrian collection got to the British Museum in London (shared with Iraq, before the formation of the modern, independent government of Iraq), the Lydian materials from Sardis got to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (shared with the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey), the Egyptian collection got to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a number of collections got to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, and of course how the great collections were formed at the university archaeological museums, like the Peabody Museums at Harvard and Yale, the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, and the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania.”
    In the final text, Musée Guimet is no longer mentioned and the references to the British Museum and other institutions are vague and no specific collections are named.
    Further in his book Cuno writes:

    “The history of archaeology in Iraq has always been closely linked to the cultural and political ambitions of the governing of its governing authorities. During the late Ottoman period, Iraqi archaeology was dominated by teams of Europeans and North American excavators working on pre-Islamic sites at Babylon, Khorsabad, and Nippur. They had been drawn to the area intent on confirming the historical existence of Biblical events and places and with the view that the ancient history of what they called Mesopotamia was in fact part of the West’s subsequent Graeco-Roman and Judeo-Christian history. The term Mesopotamia itself was a lassical Greek term used by Westerners to mark the lands known locally since the advent of Islam as al-“Iraq in the north and al-Jazira in the south. Its use by Orientalists has been interpreted politically as a “reconstructive act severing “Mesopotamia” from any geographical terrain in order to weave it into the Western historical narrative”: Mesopotamia as a pre-Islamic source for Western culture; Iraq as an Islamic, geographically determined-and thus limited-construction.

    Under the British Mandate, from 1921 to 1932, archaeology in Iraq was dominated by British teams - including the British Museum working with the University of Pennsylvania at Ur, the fabled home not only of Sumerian kings but also the Biblical Abraham - regulated by British authorities. The Oxford-educated, English woman Gertrude Bell, who had worked for the British Intelligence in the Arab Bureau in Cairo, was appointed honorary Director of Antiquities in Iraq by the British-installed King Faysal in 1922. A most able administrator, having served as the Oriental secretary to the High Commission in Iraq after the war, Bell was responsible for approving applications for archaeologists, and thus for determining where in Iraq excavators would work. She was also a major force behind the wording and passage of the 1924 law regulating excavations in Iraq, a result of which was the founding of the Iraq Museum and the legitimization of partage:

    Article 22: At the close of excavations, the Director shall chose such objects
    from among those found as are in his opinion needed for scientific completeness of the Iraq Museum. After separating these objects, the Director will assign[to the excavator]… such objects as will reward him adequately aiming as far as possible at giving such a person a representative share of the whole result of excavations made by him.

    Article 24: Any antiquities received by a person as his share of the proceeds of excavations under the preceding article may be exported by him and he shall be given an export permit free of charge in respect thereof”. (Cuno, pp. 54-55).

    After reading these extracts from Cuno’s book, one wonders how he could even think of recommending such a system to African and Asian countries, Greece and Italy. By his own account, the system of partage was dominated by the British and the Americans who determined where excavated cultural objects should be. So why should those countries which have experienced this system want to return to it?

    4) Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums.

    5) “Wem gehört die Antike?” (Who owns the Antique?) Tagesspiegel Berlin, Sunday July 6 2008;art772,2566315

    6) “Parts of the gate and lions from the Processional Way are in various other museums around the world. Only three museums acquired dragons while lions went to several museums. The Istanbul Archaeology Museum has lions, dragons, and bulls. The Detroit Institute of Arts houses a dragon. The Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg, Sweden, has one dragon and one lion; the Louvre, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Oriental Institute in Chicago, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Yale University Art Gallery of New Haven, Connecticut, each have lions.” Wikipedia Those Westerners who mock Saddam Hussein’s government for its pitiful attempts to rebuild the Ishtar gate may perhaps consider appealing to their governments and the German government to return to the Iraqi people the original gate and all its attachments at the end of the civil war and foreign occupation.

    7) See Jeanette Greenfield, The Return of Cultural Treasures, Third Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 387.

    8) James Cuno, Who owns Antiquity? Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2008; see http://lootingmatters

    9) A new European Museum could be administered by Germany and Poland with the participation of other members of the European Union. The museum should in principle hold only artefacts of European culture and should not hold African, Asian, Oceanian or American objects unless these have been expressly donated by governments from those continents. This will have the effect that the European Museum will be the first major museum in the Western world without any stolen or looted objects. Indeed, this would constitute a major shift in the concept of museum since up to now, encouraged by past practices and the supporters of the so-called universal museums - British Museum, Louvre, Musée du quai Branly and the Berlin State Museums - a museum seems almost synonymous with stolen or looted items. A demonstration that one can establish great museums without stolen or looted objects could also contribute to reducing the uncontrolled looting and unbridled greed that feed the private art market. If the museums do not buy stolen/looted art objects, the market for such objects will dwindle. A museum should not be a thieves’ den.

    10) British Museum has on some occasions sold Benin bronzes and thus thrown doubt on the motive s for keeping these stolen objects in the museum. See Martin Bailey, “British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes ,;
    “Benin bronzes sold to Nigeria”, BBC News A report from Sotheby’s states “The highest estimates, $350,000 to $450,000, are for a Benin bronze plaque, Lot 163, from around the 16th Century that was collected on the "British Punitive Expedition to Benin in 1897" by an officer on the expedition. More than 17 inches high and more than 13 inches wide, the plaque shows two male court officials at the palace in Benin dressed in full regalia. It sold for $321,000.“. It would be interesting to know how much of the Iraqi art objects have been sold by the museums organizing the Babylon exhibition.

    Arts, Briefly; From Albright-Knox, a Benin Bronze
    Published: May 18, 2007
    A 17th-century bronze head from the Kingdom of Benin, a pre-colonial civilization in what is now southern Nigeria, sold yesterday at Sotheby's for $4.74 million, against an estimate of $1 million to $1.5 million. It had been in the collection of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, which is selling -- over the protests of some patrons -- several older works to increase its endowment for buying contemporary art. In March, the first in the series of sales made the gallery more than $18 million. A rare 10th-century granite statue depicting the Hindu god Shiva as Brahma sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art for slightly more than $4 million, an auction record for a work of traditional Indian art. The cast Benin head, nine inches tall, depicts a king, or oba.
    11) The literature on the looting of artefacts and the plunder of archaeological sites in Iraq is extensive .We mention here just a few:
    The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq
    (eds) Peter G. Stone and Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly
    The Boydell Press,Woodbridge,Suffolk,UK, 2008;
    Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection After the Iraq War
    (ed) Lawrence Rothfield
    Altamira Press, 2008.
    There are many other excellent reports and discussions in looting matters See also a first hand account of plundering in Southern Iraq; see also Baghdad Museum: Five Years On.

    12) Since 1972 the United Nations General Assembly has passed annually a resolution on the restitution or return of cultural objects. See K. Opoku.” Benin to Berlin Ethnologisches Museum: Are Benin bronzes made in Berlin?”

  2. Dr. Opoku,
    Thank you for the very detailed and insightful commentary.
    This issue of looted antiquities will probably never be resolved in our lifetime but I appreciate the fact that you and others continue to try.

  3. Hi, I think it would be fair to credit this article to its puboiusher, The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, UAE. It's a new voice in the region and has some interesting things to say. Also, the link you have given to the original appears not to be working. It should be:

    Thanks; Jonathan Gornall, News Features Editor, The National.

  4. This article was written by me. Anyone who has been following my other writings,available on and Modern would readily recognize my style and views. If The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, UAE has reproduced my article,I have no objections but the article remains my own.

    Dr.Kwame Opoku.

  5. I withdraw my comment of 19 November. I realize that there has been a confusion on my part about the reference to the "original". My apologies for any inconvenience caused. Dr.Kwame Opoku.