“Stuff Happens“, that was Donald Rumsfeld’s response when asked about the looting that happened in Baghdad following the US invasion of Iraq. One of the places that got looted was the Iraq Museum which carries artifacts from as far back as 9000 B.C.E. There was the usual mango man (aam aadmi) style looting where people ran into the museum and grabbed random millenia old artifacts, but there was also professional work where they broke through concrete walls.
Initially it was thought that 170,000 pieces had disappeared; soon the number was reduced to 15,000. Eventually it turned out that only 33 pieces were missing. An important object that disappeared was the Warka Vase, which is dated to 3200 – 3000 B.C.E. Then one day a red Toyota stopped by:
“The red Toyota spluttered to a halt in front of the Iraq Museum and three men in their early twenties jumped out. As they struggled to lift a large object wrapped in a blanket out of the boot, the American guards on the gate raised their weapons. For a moment, a priceless 5,000-year-old vase thought to have been lost in looting after the fall of Baghdad seemed about to meet its end. But one of the men peeled back the blanket to reveal carved alabaster pieces that were clearly something extraordinary. Three feet high and weighing 600lb intact, this was the Sacred Vase of Warka, regarded by experts as one of the most precious of all the treasures taken during looting that shocked the world in the chaos following the fall of Baghdad. [The Iraq War & Archaeology]
Finally after 6 years the museum opened, in February. Well, sort of. You can visit if your name is Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. It will take much longer before an Iraqi mango man can stand before the exhibits, look at the cuneiform inscriptions of ancient Sumer, and wonder about the Meluhhans who could read that tablet. Till then even we Meluhhans have to visit it virtually.