John Curtis: A failure of duty

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The Independent Online

Why does all this matter? The fact is that Iraq, ancient Meso-potamia, is rightly regarded as the cradle of civilisation. Some of the world's earliest archaeological sites are here, and the period following 3000 BC, when writing was invented, witnessed the rapid growth and development of towns and cities.

Mesopotamia was home to the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians, all of whom made great contributions to the development of civilisation and left a legacy on which Europe drew heavily. It is vital to safeguard these finds for future generations, but just as important is the protection of archaeological sites which can tell us so much about the past. When sites are looted, that evidence is lost for ever.

We had hoped the looting of archaeological sites was on the wane but if Robert Fisk's information is correct, looting is on the increase. We have signally failed in our duty to safeguard and protect the Iraqi cultural heritage. And lessons still have not been learned. Not only did military planners fail to heed the warnings of archaeologists at the time of the invasion, they continue to do so. This cavalier behaviour must stop, and we must unite to try to rescue the Iraqi cultural heritage.

The author is Keeper of Middle East, British Museum

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