Lost from the Baghdad museum: truth (Guardian). hmmm! It seems we’ve been had:
(In April, it was widely reported that) 100,000-plus priceless items were looted (from the Baghdad museum) either under the very noses of the Yanks, or by the Yanks themselves. And the only problem with it is that it’s nonsense. It isn’t true. It’s made up. It’s bollocks.
Incredible — it seems (a) the museum was looted — to a degree; the vast majority of ‘missing’ items had actually been moved into safe storage, and ‘most of the serious looting was an inside job’.
And (b) the academics and journalists who reported ‘170,000 items … stolen or destroyed’ had been led by the nose by Dr Donny George, the museum’s director of research. It just wasn’t true:
Over the past six weeks it has gradually become clear that most of the objects which had been on display in the museum galleries were removed before the war. Some of the most valuable went into bank vaults, where they were discovered last week. Eight thousand more have been found in 179 boxes hidden ‘in a secret vault’. And several of the larger and most remarked items seem to have been spirited away long before the Americans arrived in Baghdad.
George is now quoted as saying that that items lost could represent ‘a small percentage’ of the collection and blamed shoddy reporting for the exaggeration. ‘There was a mistake,’ he said. ‘Someone asked us what is the number of pieces in the whole collection. We said over 170,000, and they took that as the number lost. Reporters came in and saw empty shelves and reached the conclusion that all was gone. But before the war we evacuated all of the small pieces and emptied the showcases except for fragile or heavy material that was difficult to move.’
This indictment of world journalism has caused some surprise to those who listened to George and others speak at the British Museum meeting. One art historian, Dr Tom Flynn, now speaks of his ‘great bewilderment’. ‘Donny George himself had ample opportunity to clarify to the best of (his) knowledge the extent of the looting and the likely number of missing objects,’ says Flynn. ‘Is it not a little strange that quite so many journalists went away with the wrong impression, while Mr George made little or not attempt to clarify the context of the figure of 170,000 which he repeated with such regularity and gusto before, during, and after that meeting.’ To Flynn it is also odd that George didn’t seem to know that pieces had been taken into hiding or evacuated. ‘There is a queasy subtext here if you bother to seek it out,’ he suggests.