Iraq has very much been in the news lately. Overwhelmed with the war stories, you may have missed the very uplifting news of the opening of a museum in Basra, in one of Saddam Hussein’s old palaces. The museum gathers artefacts relating to the history of the city since the Hellenistic period, and is a fantastic place. This took me back to the 1920s and the opening of another museum…
You may think that, during the First World War and in its immediate aftermath, archaeology wasn’t very high on the agenda. You would be wrong.
Shortly after capturing Baghdad in 1917, General Maude issued a proclamation to regulate the preservation of archaeological sites and the antiquities trade, and promised high penalties to anyone desecrating an ancient monument (FO 371/3410).
In January 1920, the Civil Commissioner in Baghdad had been warned that the Arch of Ctesiphon, some 22 miles south-east of the capital, was in a ‘dangerous state’ due to brick pillage. Temporary measures were taken, and the protection and repair of ancient monuments were factored into the budget of the Public Works Department in June, but a more consistent approach was needed. In July, the Foreign Office noted that ‘it [would] be a disaster if the great arch at Ctesiphon [collapsed]’ and that ‘this work must be treated priority’ (FO 371/5138). Continue reading »