DENNIS AND JANE DRAKE PIECHOTA
One of the smuggled tablets that were crushed when the twin towers fell. They have been returned to Iraq
In all the twists and tragedies spanning 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, few would think to look for a happy subplot in the world of archaeology. But consider the travails of 362 tiny clay tablets. Forged in southern Iraq 4,000-odd years ago, then crushed in the collapse of the twin towers, the tablets are now back in Iraq.
Decorated with cuneiform script – the oldest-known form of human writing – the tiny tablets were shipped in early 2001 from Dubai to the Port of Newark in New Jersey by smugglers. There were presumably headed to new hands in return for considerable sums of money. The tablets, each one smaller than a deck of cards, were initially valued at $330,000. In another sense, though, they were priceless, in part because they referenced one of the most powerful officials of the Third Dynasty of Ur, 2000 years before Christ.
Thank goodness for US Customs, who got wind of the delicate merchandise and confiscated it upon landing. But then something less positive happened: they put them in storage at the very bottom of one of the twin towers.
“I was aghast. I was horrified,” James McAndrew, a senior special agent with US Customs, said of the moment that he realised that along with all the human loss at ground zero, the Iraqi tablets were surely gone too. “We had stored the tablets down there, and then when 9/11 happened, the building was destroyed along with everything else,” he told The New York Times, this week, which reported the story of the tablets’ modern odyssey and return to Iraq.
The first miracle occurred when rescue teams finally reached the basement of the “pile” at ground zero and had time to begin retrieving stored items. The boxes of tablets were still there, but there was a problem: they had partly crumbled because of the collapse of the towers but also because they had been soaked with water.
Even as the tablets were formally returned to the Iraqi government at a quiet ceremony in Washington in 2008, the US State Department stepped forward with $100,000 to pay for experts in ancient artefacts in America to reassemble them more or less to the state they were in when they first showed up in Newark. That done, they were packed again and sent on the return leg of a journey that never should have been. On 7 September – almost exactly nine years after 9/11 – the tablets were received home by the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad.
“They’ve certainly been on a crazy journey,” John Russell told the Times. An art history professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, who was involved in the restoration of the tablets, Mr Russell added: “Iraq is rising from a period of considerable difficulty, and I think the restoration of these tablets and restoring them to their owners in a stable condition is kind of a nice metaphor for what the Iraqis themselves are doing.
- Detoured by 9/11 Attack, 4,000-Year-Old Tablets Make It Back to Iraq (nytimes.com)
- Hundreds of Looted Artifacts Returned to Iraq (waronterrornews.typepad.com)
Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust is a book well worth reading. I’ve read it and I think highly of the book.
I don’ t have time to write a review right now, but here’s the PW writeup:
Goldhagen’s gripping and shocking landmark study transforms our understanding of the Holocaust. Refuting the widespread notion that those who carried out the genocide of Jews were primarily SS men or Nazi party members, he demonstrates that the perpetrators?those who staffed and oversaw the concentration camps, slave labor camps, genocidal army units, police battalions, ghettos, death marches?were, for the most part, ordinary German men and women: merchants, civil servants, academics, farmers, students, managers, skilled and unskilled workers. Rejecting the conventional view that the killers were slavishly carrying out orders under coercion, Goldhagen, assistant professor of government at Harvard, uses hitherto untapped primary sources, including the testimonies of the perpetrators themselves, to show that they killed Jews willingly, approvingly, even zealously. Hitler’s genocidal program of a “Final Solution” found ready accomplices in these ordinary Germans who, as Goldhagen persuasively argues, had absorbed a virulent, “eliminationist” anti-Semitism, prevalent as far back as the 18th century, which demonized the Jews and called for their expulsion or physical annihilation. Furthermore, his research reveals that a large proportion of the killers were told by their commanders that they could disobey orders to kill, without fear of retribution?yet they slaughtered Jews anyway. By his careful estimate, hundreds of thousands of Germans were directly involved in the mass murder, and millions more knew of the ongoing genocide. Among the 30 photographs are snapshots taken by the murderers of themselves and their victims.
1I am a german and for me this sounds like it could have been that way. The nazi regime was very good at propaganda. It should be a warning for the civilized world that even a well educated first world country can be victim to a radical ideology. The time after world war I was of course a very hard time in germany and people are more likely to follow false prophets in such times.
Posted by: Arnd | September 17, 2010 3:11 AM
I wish you would cease calling these people Christians. Like
the creationists, Hitler’s willing followers were people who
perverted everything that Christianity stands for.
Posted by: William O. Romine Jr. | September 17, 2010 9:16 AM
I’m three-quarters German. I had relatives here in the US who went to German school, read German newspapers, sang German patriotic songs, and joined the Bund, remaining loyal to Germany even after the declaration of war. All those men went into the Army, serving in the Pacific Theater.
After the collapse of the Third Reich, many of them were still proud of Germany’s accomplishments during the war. It seems to be part of a cultural mindset that can be hard to fathom.
Posted by: 6EQUJ5 | September 17, 2010 9:28 AM
William, sorry, just being real. The anti-semitism of Europe was largely a Christian phenomenon, and it was going for a long time before the Nazi’s, who were nominally Christian and often more than nominally Christian, put a fine edge on it while the German Church sat by and watched or even participated. For me to ignore that would be dishonest. For you to ignore it would also be dishonest. As an Atheist, I can’t really find a way to be dishonest like that. As a Christian, perhaps you don’t find it so difficult. Just sayin’
- Hitler’s Willing (Christian) Executioners [Greg Laden’s Blog] (scienceblogs.com)
- Hitler’s (Christian) Pope [Greg Laden’s Blog] (scienceblogs.com)
- German Women’s Involvement In The Holocaust (oliverwillis.com)
- Death Marches and Extermination Camps (socyberty.com)
In pictures: secrets of the Vatican archives | Books | guardian.co.uk.The Grand Vizir of the Ottoman Empire, Karà Mustafà, attacked Vienna with an army of 160,000 men in 1683. Appointed as head of the Christian army by the intervention of Pope Innocent XI, the King of Poland, John Sobieski, led an army of 70,000 men to the walls, and broke the siege on 11 September after eight hours of combat. CLICK LINK FOR PHOTOS.
- Vatican library reopens after 3-year restoration – Yahoo! News (news.yahoo.com)
- Hitler’s (Christian) Pope [Greg Laden’s Blog] (scienceblogs.com)