The Devastation of Iraq’s Past

Iraq Archeological Site

In early June 2008, the British Museum and the British Army (Multinational Division), with the full support of the State Board for Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq, undertook a unique joint project to assess damage at a number of archaeological sites in southern Iraq. (via MetaFilter)

In The Buried Book, his recent account of the rediscovery of The Epic of Gilgamesh, David Damrosch observes that the poem portrays Gilgamesh as one of the great kings of Sumer by emphasizing his accomplishments as “custodian of ancient cities and monuments that have to be maintained and repaired.” Indeed, in the prologue of the epic, the poet describes the story he is about to tell as an artifact of the past, to be discovered—as in fact it was by archaeologists in the nineteenth century—and carefully preserved:
[See] the tablet-box of cedar
[release] its clasp of bronze.

[Lift] the lid of its secret
[pick] up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out
the travails of Gilgamesh, all that he went through…

The example of Gilgamesh was forgotten in 2003, and we may never know how many other such “secrets” have been lost as a result.