by Peter Stemmler

Risk of death, futile, heartbreaking (see more)

The cradle of civilization and agriculture. The first place humans built cities. The birthplace of writing. And–oh, yeah–currently the best place in the world to get yourself kidnapped or killed. For archaeologists, there’s no plum like Iraq. Saddam actually let them do their job, and he even protected his country’s heritage in museums. But now no archaeologist can work in Iraq until security improves. Meanwhile more than 8,500 treasures have been stolen, and those are just from museums, where artifacts are cataloged.

What truly troubles archaeologists is imagining what’s being taken from their dig sites in the field. Archaeologist Francis Deblauwe, who is trying to keep tabs on the looting, knows of more than 30 important digs, including ancient Babylon, that have been despoiled, but he notes that his list is “very preliminary and grossly incomplete.” When the researchers do get to go back in, they’ll be able to determine which sites have been looted. But they’ll never know what’s been taken.