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Lawrence Rothfield interviewed in The New Yorker

Lawrence Rothfield discusses his new book in an interview with The New Yorker. The book, The Rape of Mesopotamia, is about the looting of the Iraq National Museum during the American invasion in 2003. From the interview:

Can you summarize the argument of your book in one sentence?

The looting of the Iraq Museum (and the even more disastrous pillaging of thousands of Mesopotamian sites) was a complicated fiasco arising out of a number of factors: indifferent political leadership, to be sure, but also an international legal framework that has not caught up with the new threat of post-combat looting by civilians; a military that has no built-in capability for policing sites and museums; weak cultural heritage bureaucracies and N.G.O.s oriented toward conservation rather than protection efforts; and an insatiable demand for Mesopotamian antiquities by super-wealthy collectors.

That’s a long sentence!

Rothfield goes on to describe an Iraqi museum official who, when asking his superiors what should be done to protect the museum in the event of an American invasion, was told, “Don’t be silly, Saddam would never allow American forces to enter Baghdad!”

This interview comes on the heels of an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, in which Rothfield explains that the ancient art “is being ripped out of its context. The individual intact pieces that fall into the hands of collectors might be beautiful. But most of what we know about the origins of civilization has come from piecing together fragments and reconstructing contexts. The Epic of Gilgamesh was pieced together from fragments that looters today would have crushed underfoot.”

You can read an excerpt from The Rape of Mesopotamia on the University of Chicago Press website. For more information, see Rothfield’s blog.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Lawrence Rothfield’s book continues to draw attention - News from the Division of the Humanities linked to this post on June 8, 2009

    [...] more information, see this previous post with links to Prof. Rothfield’s New Yorker interview and to an excerpt from his [...]

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