Jun 13 2012
By Shaymaa Adel
Azzaman, June 13, 2012
Iraqi ancient mounds are being plundered of their riches by smugglers and illegal diggers, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.
The ministry spokesperson Ali al-Hashemi said most of the country’s 12,000 archaeologically significant sites are unguarded, making it very easy for anyone to carry out illegal digs, gather the finds and sell them on the open market.
“We are facing a huge problem. The roots of the problem are illegal and haphazard excavations which have resulted in the theft of more than 117,000 artifacts,” Hashemi said.
He did not say how the ministry had calculated the figure but added the pieces stolen from unprotected mounds were estimated in surveys by Archaeology Department experts.
Hashemi said the ministry has asked the government to allocate resources in order to recruit 13,000 new guards to protect the country’s archaeological riches from smugglers and illegal diggers.
“We only have 2,400 guards for more than 13,000 archaeological sites,” Hashemi said.
“We have seen a sharp rise in Mesopotamian artifacts for sale at different auctions in the world,” he said.
The Antiquities Department, he added, has its own experts who are following auctions across the world and are doing their best to have the stolen pieces returned.
Iraq is among the world’s richest in archaeology. Called the cradle of civilization, it is the land where writing was first invented and the first civil system of government established.
Among the most outstanding civilizations that flourished in Iraq are the Sumerians, the Akkadians and the Assyrians.
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