Following a looting spree during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the famous Iraq Museum was shuttered and sealed. But Iraqi and U.S. officials say the Baghdad repository of 5000 years of Mesopotamian history will reopen by year's end.
That's good news for archaeologists. "It's a great idea," says John Russell, an archaeologist at Boston's Massachusetts College of Art and Design. "The museum has good security and Baghdad seems fairly stable."
Founded in the 1920s by British adventurer and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, the museum contains more than 100,000 objects and is considered one of the world's finest collections of ancient artifacts. But when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad in 2003, looters ransacked the offices and storerooms, stealing thousands of objects. Many, such as the 5000-year-old stone mask called the Lady of Warka, were returned, and other priceless pieces had been hidden by museum officials before the invasion. But more than a thousand objects, including small and portable cylinder seals, remain at large.
Iraqi officials told media in Baghdad last week that the institution will reopen in November, and U.S. embassy officials there confirmed that the Iraqis intend to allow the public access within the next 2 or 3 months. The United States contributed more than $9 million to renovate a dozen halls in recent years, and the Italian government also contributed to the renovation effort. New climate control and security systems will protect the collection.