Several hundred archaeological treasures went on display briefly in Baghdad today. Many of them were looted after the war in Iraq started in 2003. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Jane Arraf of the Christian Science Monitor, who managed to get a peak at some of Iraq’s returned treasures.Download MP3
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MARCO WERMAN: At the start of the war in Iraq, looters made off with thousands of the country’s archeological treasures. Other artifacts had already gone missing during the Saddam years. Well, since 2003, many Iraqi artifacts have been recovered. And today, 542 once-lost antiquities were briefly on display again in Baghdad. Jane Arraf got a chance to take a peek at the treasures. Arraf is Iraq correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor. Jane, what did you see today?
JANE ARRAF: Well, Marco, the things that were really quite spectacular, ‘cause really nothing says royal treasure quite like gold, were a pair of earrings that really have not been seen since they disappeared well before the 2003 war. Now, these are part of the treasures of Nimrud. And Nimrud is particularly fascinating because it was one of the sites that was excavated by Iraqis long after the big-name Brits, the British excavations had uncovered, they thought, everything. And Iraqi archaeologists found a hidden tomb and it was the tomb of one of the queens. It was actually Queen Atalia, who is the Queen of Sargon. And in it were 50 pounds of gold objects. Bowls, jewelry, and among them, these earrings, which disappeared and ended up a potential auction at Christie’s last December.
WERMAN: You love these earrings so much. Tell us what they look like. I mean why are they so seductive?
ARRAF: These earrings are really quite extraordinary. They would be extraordinary if they were made today, but when you think that they’re 3,000 years old, they are incredibly intricate. And you have to wonder if many people do, as archeologists do as well, how they actually crafted these because these were techniques in jewelry making that disappeared for a couple of thousand years afterwards. They’re essentially hoops and they’re a crescent and hanging from the crescent are little smaller gold hoops with cone-shaped pieces of gold. But the really interesting thing is they have these granular designs on them. So they managed to make grains of gold and make these very delicate, intricate pieces of jewelry. Now they’re not all like this, some of the ones in the treasures of Nimrud are big, heavy pieces of gold. They include anklets that are more two pounds each and incredible necklaces that essentially would have covered the queen’s entire neck with clasps in the shape of animals. But these are among the more delicate and they’re not only incredibly beautiful, like any great work of art and particularly the ones from antiquity, they make you wonder about what kind of civilization created that.
WERMAN: As far as the artifacts on display, did you get a sense of how many of them had disappeared during the Saddam years and how many of them had been looted after 2003. I mean how much is still lost?
ARRAF: Almost all of them were looted after 2003 and that’s one of the things. They’re still trying to get a considerable number of them back. But this was really a victory, not just for the Iraqi archaeologists who really treat each one of these pieces as treasured parts of their family. It was kind of a victory for Iraq in general because it got these back with the help of American authorities working with Interpol and other authorities and this [SOUNDS LIKE] raised a significant number. And as for these earrings, they’re not going back in the museum, they are going back into that bank vault [INDISCERNIBLE]. It’s a lot safer.
WERMAN: Now, Jane, you were in Baghdad just before a lot of the stuff you saw today was looted. How has this memory played out, that looting among Iraqis, and are many people there excited that these antiquities are back?
ARRAF: I think they are because one of the things about the war and the damage that it’s done and the trauma and I don’t use that word lightly, that people have suffered. Americans, as well, obviously as Iraqis. They’ve lost so much and it isn’t just that they’ve lost family members. They’ve lost a big piece of their city. They’ve had things taken away from them like their very heritage. Every time you talk to Iraqis they will tell you this is where writing was invented. This is where the civilizations sprung up. And you can trace it all the way back. And I really find that each and every one of them actually does have that pride of tracing civilization back to the very beginnings in the land that they grew up. So these things they’re getting back, they are extremely meaningful. They would be much more meaningful if they were in a museum where schoolchildren could go, where the doors were open, but that’s a step further.
WERMAN: Someday perhaps.
WERMAN: Jane Arraf in Iraq with the Christian Science Monitor. Thanks very much, Jane.
ARRAF: Thank you.
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