22 June 2007 -- Program Seeks to Preserve History With Playing Cards

The Defense Department will issue decks of playing cards to deployed troops starting July 31, but not for Texas Hold 'Em tournaments. The cards are training aids designed to help the servicemembers understand the archaeological significance of their deployed locations.

"It has been my experience that deploying personnel appreciate the history and heritage of the countries where they deploy," said Laurie Rush, cultural resource program manager for the Defense Department's Legacy Resource Management Program at Fort Drum, N.Y. "The soldiers here at Fort Drum have been extremely appreciative of our efforts to make training here as realistic as possible and to provide them with information."

Each card has a picture of an archeological site, artifact or a brief statement about actions that should be taken upon discovering an archeological site. They explain what constitutes an archaeological site and what to watch for before carrying out missions near these sites. The cards are also are a great source for understanding the culture in which the soldiers are fighting, Rush said.

The queen of hearts card in the new deck also makes a bold statement about the importance of culture, saying that the ancient sites are important to the local community. "Showing respect wins hearts and minds," the card reminds soldiers.

The idea behind the archaeological deck of cards began when a group of Middle Eastern archaeologists decided to work with the military archaeological community to educate military men and women about the places they are being deployed.

The cards will identify several rare archaeological sites and artifacts reminding troops that these areas are not only a part of Iraqi and Afghan cultural history, but also their own.

Each card in the new deck tells a story. The two of clubs card depicts the Nabi Yunis mosque in Mosul, Iraq. There is speculation that this mosque holds the ruins of the biblical prophet Jonah.

The six of hearts has a photograph of an artifact with a picture carved in stone. The card reads, "The world's oldest complete legal code was found in Iraq on a stone carved with an image of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, ca. 1760 B.C."

Previously, a set of 55 cards was issued to coalition forces in 2003, displaying names, photographs, and titles of the "most wanted" senior officials in Saddam Hussein's regime. The idea was to put photographs of officials into the hands of troops so that during their missions to bring down the regime, they could quickly recognize the officials should they come in contact with them.

Similarly, the archaeological cards act as a guide using photographs and facts. Understanding how to work around archaeological sites is imperative to U.S. troops preventing unnecessary delays during the preparation of missions, Rush said.

The enemy has been known to use these historical sites and artifacts to their advantage, as evidenced by the recent destruction of the Golden Dome Mosque's minarets in Samarra, Iraq.

"The enemy may use cultural properties -- including ruins, cemeteries and religious buildings -- as firing points," a pocket guide that's part of the training materials warns U.S. military personnel.

Officials are hoping that this new program will inform troops about the importance of protecting the past and respecting the things that are important to the Iraqi and Afghanistan cultures.

Rush said the program not only will include the playing cards, but also will incorporate Web-based training and simulated event training, as well as the construction of some mock ruins. She said the idea is to "increase training realism."

"U.S. forces have been severely criticized for their part in damaging or failing to protect cultural properties when occupying archaeologically sensitive areas in military theatres of occupation," according to a Training for In-Theatre Cultural Resource Protection fact sheet. "In military operations where winning hearts and minds is a critical component of success, protection of cultural property becomes vital to the success of the mission."





26 April 2007 -- Interpol assists in recovery of ancient Iraqi sculpture in Lebanon

Close co-operation between Lebanese police and Interpol, as well as with Italian art experts, has led to the recovery of an ancient sculpture of an Arab king taken from the national museum in Baghdad.

Police recently seized the limestone head of King Sanatruq I of Hatra from the home of a well-known Lebanese decorator. After its discovery at an archaeological site in Hatra, it was exhibited in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad until its disappearance. The exact circumstances of the theft have not been confirmed.

The head, which stands 47cm and dates from the 2nd century BC, was visible in an Al Jazeera television report about the decorator broadcast in June 2006. A leading Italian archaeologist from the University of Turin who participated in the archaeological expedition in Hatra thought he recognised the sculpture from the report and informed Interpol.

Interpol obtained a copy of the broadcast, from which it was able to extract an image capture of the sculpture. This was sent to the archaeologist for examination, who expressed no doubt of the sculpture's origins, providing documentation which contained the inventory number assigned to the statue by the Iraq Museum.

This information was sent to Interpol's National Central Bureaus (NCBs) in Beirut and Baghdad on 10 April 2007 to initiate an investigation and protect the sculpture; it was seized two weeks later. The investigation is still ongoing.

The recovery would not have been possible without the close contacts between the Interpol General Secretariat and art experts, and without the commitment and efficiency of the police professionals working in Interpol's NCBs.

It is the second statue of an ancient Iraqi king that has been recovered with Interpol's assistance. A headless stone statue of Sumerian King Entemena was recovered in May 2006 by United States authorities.





SAFETY IN IRAQ: CIVILIZATION + RISK
Iraq Museum International strongly urges archaeological teams and others visiting Iraq to first undergo
civilian safety training such as the workshop on surviving execution offered by Crisis Response International.




SAFETY IN IRAQ: CIVILIZATION + RISK

Editorial by Stephen Bertman, Ph.D.
For Iraq Museum International
May 2007




Safety is among the most basic of human needs, and the most critical and pressing need in Iraq today.

Bursts of gunfire, blasts of roadside bombs, suicide attacks, kidnappings, and assassinations have used blood to paint a landscape of fear. Over and above the price in lives such carnage exacts are the psychological wounds it inflicts on those who survive. Terror can breed fear, but terror that is unremitting can beget a numbing sense of hopelessness and despair. Yet if the human mind can courageously envision a safer and better future, it may -- by an act of sheer will -- enable that dream to become a reality. Iraq is no stranger to insecurity. From time immemorial, Mesopotamia was an insecure land, threatened by both nature and man. Settlers were first drawn to the "land between the rivers" because of its bountiful water and fertile soil, but the rivers that defined the country and nourished its soil could torrentially flood, drowning and sweeping away the works of mankind. Over the centuries, the very course of the rivers could change, isolating and impoverishing communities that had once hopefully grown up beside their banks. At the same time, the flatness of southern Mesopotamia invited invasion after destructive invasion as armies violently clashed for control of the land's resources and riches.

As a result, a sense of anxiety and foreboding permeates much of ancient Iraq's literature, including its two greatest epics, the Babylonian Epic of Creation and the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.

Unlike the opening chapters of the Biblical book of Genesis where a single benevolent deity takes a series of creative steps culminating in the creation of man, the Babylonian Epic of Creation describes a heaven populated by vengeful and sadistic gods who brutally oppose each other in battle for the mastery of the universe. In this account, the making of man is but a cosmic footnote to a celebration of divine power.

In the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, the hero Gilgamesh, grieving over the death of a beloved friend, searches for the secret of eternal life. Eventually, however, Gilgamesh is told:

The life you're looking for you'll never find.
For when the gods made man,
Death is what they reserved for him, saving life for themselves.
Undaunted, Gilgamesh persists in his quest until he finds a wise old man named Utnapishtim. In ages past, Utnapishtim had survived a universal flood that had destroyed all of humanity, a deluge that had been sent by capricious gods. Out of compassion, Utnapishtim gives Gilgamesh a magic plant that can restore his youth. But before Gilgamesh can use it, this irreplaceable gift is stolen.

Together, the epics proclaim that, in confronting an amoral and unpredictable universe, human efforts are ultimately futile because man is puny. Life is precious, but incredibly fragile and easily lost. And because all things apart from the gods are impermanent, humanity's struggle is doomed to end in failure.

This sense of despair is poignantly conveyed in the words of two Mesopotamian lamentations that ironically survive only in fragmentary form. The anonymous verses were composed thousands of years ago, though, with a change of script and language, they could easily have been written in modern Iraq.

Dead men, not potsherds
littered the way.
In the wide streets
where the crowds once gathered and cheered,
the corpses lay scattered.
In the fields where the dancers once danced
the dead were heaped up in piles.......

This is my house:
where food is not eaten,
where drink is not drunk,
where seats are not sat in,
where beds are not made,
where jars lie empty,
and cups are overturned,
where harps no longer vibrate
and tunes no longer sing.
This is my house:
without a husband,
without a child,
without even
me.
Natural and manmade disasters could have so easily bred a pervasive sense of hopelessness in the people of ancient Iraq, but life persisted and, despite adversity, civilization grew. Irrigation canals were dug and dredged to assure that life-giving water would reach farmers' fields. Brick walls were made of local clay and cemented together with native bitumen to bar the waters of floods and fend off the onslaughts of armies, forestalling future disasters with human ingenuity and foresight. And within those walls, cities arose where, in security, the arts of peace could flourish thanks to the critical mass of human talent those walls enclosed. Time itself became a safeguard against calamity for, as populations dwelled in the same place for generations, the debris they left behind formed layers. These layers, in turn, became superimposed, causing cities to grow vertically as streets were paved over and buildings were rebuilt upon the remains of earlier structures. The higher elevations that resulted made communities safer by making them more strategically defensible in time of war and more resistant to water in time of flood. In addition, each city erected at least one impressive temple in the pious but slender hope that a grateful god would grant protection and prosperity in exchange for perpetual service and sacrifice.

Within these communities, personal property was secured through the use of the cylinder seal, the most distinctive objet d'art Mesopotamia produced. Carved with virtuosity from small cylinders of stone and engraved in miniature with a variety of designs, these personal seals were impressed into clay to "sign" documents or signify the ownership of valuable property. Hung from a cord and worn about the neck, the cylinder seal was an ancient badge of honor, a symbol of security in an insecure world. Indeed, in the barren ruins of Iraq's ancient cities, cities long ago ravaged by war or betrayed by nature, cylinder seals still lie buried, mute witnesses to the land's former glory.

Ages ago, Mesopotamia became the home of the world's first cities and the birthplace of civilization, but not merely because its people used the natural resources around them. Mesopotamia did so because its people also drew upon the natural resources within them, including a defiant determination to replace chaos with order, danger with safety, and destruction with creative renewal, as man successfully adapted to an often hostile environment. Fittingly, when the hero-king Gilgamesh returned home after his frustrating quest, he looked up at the city walls he had once built, and had an epiphany. Gazing at those walls, he realized that, in a world where no one is immortal and nothing lasts forever, it is better to invest one's life in constructive works that can benefit others rather than surrender to anomie and do nothing at all. In that same spirit, the leaders of Mesopotamia enacted the world's first codes of law in the firm conviction that law constitutes society's strongest defense against the tyranny of force and the anarchy of violence.

Writing, yet another Mesopotamian invention, likewise became the enemy of anomie. For writing allows thoughts and feelings that would otherwise perish with an individual's death to transcend time. Thus later ages can draw upon the courage and wisdom of earlier days to meet the challenges of their own times. Tradition is a strong bulwark against disorder, and writing is its faithful servant. Indeed, the clay tablets of Iraq's cuneiform past were in their own way as potent a deterrent to chaos as the brick walls that made Iraq's homes and cities secure.

Nor is it an accident that the world's first schools were built in Iraq, for the ancient Mesopotamians understood the transformative power of education to nurture young minds and enable them to grow into confident maturity. Significantly, the goal of Sumerian education was not simply to pass on lifeless data (so often the goal today) but to inculcate a sense of what we must call, for want of a better word, "humanity." Indeed, this term appears for the first time in the history of the world in Sumerian texts. To his headmaster, for example, a student says: "I was like a puppy dog until you opened my eyes. You formed humanity inside me."

Though we may not at first perceive it, the past and the present do not exist in sealed compartments, separated from each other by some artificial and impermeable barrier. Instead, time is fluid: the past can spill into the present in the form of memory, and the present can pour back into the past seeking guidance. But, as it washes over that past, the present can also erase its outlines or even willfully destroy its foundations. The stunning looting of the Baghdad Museum and the repeated rape of archaeological sites throughout Iraq offer ample proof of the latter, for what is stolen is not just so much merchandise for sale, but an entire people's collective memory, a priceless substance they desperately need to protect them, for a civilized people's heritage is its best armor against the assaults of barbarism.

The lessons Mesopotamia's past teaches are vital today: that those who face chaos need not yield to it; that those who suffer devastation need not surrender. If Mesopotamia's history illustrates anything, it is the creative resilience of the Iraqi people, a spirit to which all the world remains indebted, and a spirit all the more necessary in today's political environment where the destructive capacity of man has been magnified beyond all measure.


Stephen Bertman, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Classics, The University of Windsor, and author of Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia (New York: Facts On File, 2003; Oxford University Press, 2005).




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