| US soldiers guard the Iraqi archaeological museum in Baghdad. (AFP)
Paris, April 17 (Reuters) : World antiquities experts met today to consider emergency measures to rescue Iraq’s cultural heritage after looters ransacked museums housing priceless artifacts from the cradle of civilisation.
Leading archaeologists gathered at the Paris headquarters of the UN cultural body, Unesco, to document the damage and propose urgent steps to prevent ancient objects from reaching the international art market.
Unesco director general Koichiro Matsuura said the steps could include a “heritage police” to watch over cultural sites and emergency legal measures by states worldwide to prevent the import of ancient objects having recently left Iraq.
“It is always difficult when communities are facing the consequences of an armed conflict to plead the case for the preservation of the cultural heritage,” he said in his opening speech.
“It is as if we were more interested in stones than in people. But nothing could be further from the truth, of course.”
Restoring Iraq’s cultural heritage is seen as key to rebuilding its national identity after the chaos that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime last week.
Antiquities experts were dismayed when looters ransacked and destroyed the contents of the Iraqi National Museum, which held rare artifacts documenting the development of mankind in ancient Mesopotamia, one of the earliest civilisations.
Living on the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamians were the first people to study the stars, develop the written word and enforce a legal code.