Monday, June 20, 2011

Looting in Afghanistan: A Photo-Essay

(I wrote this post before I realized the articles were actually written in 2009. Ha. How behind am I today. It's never too late to be critical.) Time Magazine featured this photo-essay (which accompanies this essay), shot by Adam Ferguson, of recent excavations and looting in the Balkh Province, Afghanistan. Some sites in the area are currently being excavated by French archaeologists as part of Delegation Archeologique Francaise en Afghanistan. The essay highlights the history of pillaging in Afghanistan and the role of poverty in driving poor Afghans to looting. While the images are quite nice and it's very exciting to have the issue being covered in such a major magazine, I did take issue with some of the text.

First, the eleventh slide mentions that the artifacts excavated will be shipped to Kabul, "where they will be analyzed and placed in a historical context, enabling archeologists to reconstruct what life once looked like." The details of this "historical context" are not described. Second, the twelfth slide states, "Many experts say Afghanistan compares to Egypt in terms of the historical value of its archeological sites." Dear Time, I believe what you mean to say is, "Afghanistan compares to Egypt in terms of the grandness and beauty of the finds in its archaeological sites." Historical value is not determined solely by the grandiosity and aesthetic appeal of archaeological finds; Egypt does not contain more "historical value" than, say, Skara Brae, simply because the culture was enormous and the climate more conducive to preserving it. The value of every place's history is equal; the experts who are concerned about stopping the illicit antiquities trade are not just concerned about the grandest sites, but every site.

However, I do think that overall the photographs and their accompanying text very successfully illustrate the overwhelming loss of history through looting. It is heartbreaking to see the repetition of looters holes in a bleak landscape that was once home to some of the largest civilizations in the history of the world.

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