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UPM: Special Public Briefings, Related Display, and Iraq Cultural Heritage Website in Response to Recent Looting, Damage to Iraq's National Museum and Other Iraqi Cultural Sites

Recent news of wide-scale looting at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad and other museums and cultural sites in war-torn Iraq has been especially painful to scholars who have excavated or studied the rich art and archaeology of the region. Archaeologists and other scholars from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, which has a long and extensive history of work in the region, have responded to the crisis in a number of ways, as the Museum strives to keep informed, keep the public informed, and offer constructive assistance in the effort to find, and return, looted artifacts. The Museum has established and posted a special issue website, is putting together a small related display for the public, and will offer public programming on the situation early this month.

"The looting of the Iraq National Museum and other art and archaeology museums in Iraq is a tragedy of vast proportions to the Iraqi people, and to all those who care about understanding our shared human heritage," said Dr. Jeremy A. Sabloff, UPM's Williams Director. "In the days, weeks and months ahead, museums and governments alike must do everything possible to assess the damage and stop the flow of stolen artifacts out of Iraq. This Museum has joined with others in a growing international effort to salvage and re-establish the collection."

Public Briefings: May 9 and 10

Two public briefings on the latest, rapidly changing developments in the looting situation and efforts to recover artifacts will be offered Friday, May 9, at noon, and Saturday, May 10, 2 p.m. Looting of the Iraq National Museum: The Museum Community Responds, will be presented by Dr. Richard L. Zettler, curator-in-charge, Near East Section. The programs, co-sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, will be held in the Rainey Auditorium, and are free with Museum admission donation.

Dr. Zettler has excavated at several sites in Iraq and conducted research in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. Returning from London and an emergency meeting coordinated by the British Museum and UNESCO (the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization), he will share what steps are being taken, planned, and considered by the international museum community and others.

Online Resources

In an effort to keep the public informed of the issues surrounding the looting of Iraq's cultural property, the University Museum has set up a special website on Iraq's Cultural Heritage: The website, available from the Museum's homepage,, features images of artifacts and replicas of artifacts believed to have been in the Baghdad Museum, as well as statements by Dr. Sabloff and Dr. Zettler, information and images from the region, and a page with links to related media stories and other sites of interest.

Golden Helmet of Meskalamdug

Photo Courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum

The Golden Helmet of Meskalamdug, circa 2550 B.C. This is an exact electrotype replica of an artifact that was excavated by the UPM and the British Museum at the Royal Tombs of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The original was kept at the National Museum of Iraq, in Baghdad.

Museum Artifacts

One of the most famous excavations in Iraq, at the Mesopotamian city of Ur, was co-sponsored by the UPM and the British Museum in the 1920s--early 1930s. UPM received one quarter of the extraordinary Sumerian artifacts, the British Museum received one quarter, and the National Museum of Iraq received half. Excavator Sir Leonard Woolley had electrotype replicas made of some of the more important pieces that went to the National Museum of Iraq. UPM is developing a display case of these replicas, with background information, for visitors to see.

Traveling Exhibition

UPM's own world-famous Royal Tombs of Ur material has been traveling nationally since 1998. Objects from that collection, including the "Ram in the Thicket" sculpture and a bull-headed lyre, are part of a Metropolitan Museum of Art show, Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus, that opens May 8. A full reinstallation of UPM's Royal Tombs of Ur material is planned for later in this decade.

The catalogue for the Museum's full traveling exhibition, Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur, is available in the Museum Shop ($75 cloth; $49.95 paper), or through the Museum Publications website,, and features 220 pages and includes 165 full-color images.


  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 32, May 6, 2003