JACKI LYDEN, host:
Seven thousand artifacts which were looted from Iraq's national museum five years ago have been retrieved. That's good news. But when you consider that more than 15,000 pieces were taken in the chaos after the U.S.-led invasion, you can understand the concern of Donny George. He was the director of the museum when thieves and looters got away with the artifacts.
He has since moved to New York where he teaches anthropology at Stonybrook. Donny George was kind enough to send me some photos of a couple of ancient artifacts he was able to retrieve. One is the 5,000-year-old Warca(ph) Vase.
Mr. DONNY GEORGE (Teaches Anthropology, Stonybrook University): The Warca Vase, it's a cylindrical vase made of alabaster stone. It was found in the city of Uduc Warca(ph), and the temple of Annana(ph). That is a star that is the original version of Venice that we know from the Greek.
LYDEN: And you're talking about the origins of the goddess Venus.
Mr. GEORGE: Yes, that's right. And the beauty of that vase…first, of course, it's about one meter, 20 centimeters high. It's carved all around body from the bottom to the top. The beauty about this carving, it's done in panels and it starts actually from the bottom showing water then the second panel is for showing plants; the third is showing animals.
The top panel is then showing the gods, which means the people are presenting and giving gifts for the gods. This is the beauty of this piece. They have condensed the whole philosophy that they had, and around 3,200 years before Christ.
LYDEN: Dr. George, at the risk of asking you something very painful, the morning or the afternoon or the hour at which you discovered that this piece was missing, what did that do to you as an archaeologist?
Mr. GEORGE: Oh my God. That was the worst moment in my life. Because I walked in the Samarian gallery and I saw the stand for that piece was knocked down and it was gone.
LYDEN: I'm now looking at another picture of another artifact, and I believe this is the Antennama(ph) statue. It's headless. What is this?
Mr. GEORGE: In fact, it's a statue of a Samarian king. It was discovered in the city of Orr(ph), and it dates back to around 2,800 B.C. The beauty of this piece is that it's documented. It has a inscription, (unintelligible) inscription, on the right shoulder and on the back. That it's mentioning the name of this king and it's mentioning him with the title of king.
This piece might be the first piece that we do have this title of king. Before him we knew the titles were prince. Well, this is a very important political development in the history of the Samarians.
LYDEN: Dr. George, I read that Moqtada al-Sadr said that it is okay to loot these things. Do you know whether or not that is true?
Mr. GEORGE: Well, I was talking to one of my people who works in the south. He said that he himself had seen some banners written in some places in the archaeological site saying that he has ordered it's quite okay if you get antiquities and buy weapons and fight the Americans.
On the other hand, we have another kind of fatwah that was actually an origin and sent by Ayatollah Sesnani(ph) himself forbidding the looting of the archaeological site and asking people to bring everything back that was looted from the Iraq Museum. So the problem is who is listening to what?
LYDEN: I know you're an American now but I can't help but think that you're terribly disappointed with the American government.
Mr. GEORGE: The only thing I can say, unfortunately, they did not manage to protect the museum. And until now it's not possible to protect the archaeological sites. And this is what's led to that tragedy of the museum, and it's leading to the tragedy of the losses that we're having every day from these archaeological sites.
It's not only Iraqis. These sites really belong to the whole mankind. It's the beginning of the civilization there so it's a great loss for mankind.
LYDEN: Donny George is the former director of the national museum in Baghdad. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Mr. GEORGE: You're welcome. Thank you very much.
(Soundbite of music)
LYDEN: Coming up, a feline femme fatale from NPR's In Character series, Catwoman.
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