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  • Shawn Malley


With the dust settling on Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003, the U.S. Army 4th Psychological Operations Group developed for the occupation forces a special deck of playing cards that featured head shots of the most wanted Iraqi regime officials. Saddam Hussein figures prominently as the Ace of Spades. The experiment was repeated in the autumn of 2007, but this time the cards represented some of Iraq's and Afghanistan's archaeological sites (Figure 1).


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Shawn Malley is Associate Professor in the Department of English, Bishop's University, Sherbrooke, Quebec J1M 1Z7, Canada; e-mail:


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Author's note: For their financial support in preparing this essay I extend my sincerest thanks to Bishop's University, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la société et la culture. I also thank Dr. Laurie Rush of the U.S. Department of Defense for her generous permission to study and reprint the playing cards, the ever-helpful staff at the British Library Department of Manuscripts, the British Museum Central Archives, and the Public Records Office, my invaluable research assistant Sunita Nigam, and, for his encouraging discussions, Dr. Michael Childs.

The following abbreviations are used throughout the notes: BL, British Library Additional Papers (volume, folio); BM C, British Museum Central Archives Committee Minutes; BM CE, British Museum Central Archives Excavation Papers; JMA, John Murray Archives (National Library of Scotland); FO, Foreign Office (Public Records Office, Kew Gardens, London).

1 For a discussion of this incident, see Bahrani, Zainab, “Babylon: A Case Study in the Military Occupation of an Archaeological Site,” in Of the Past, for the Future: Integrating Archaeology and Conservation, ed. Agnew, Neville and Bridgland, Janet (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2006), 240–46, and “The Fall of Babylon,” in The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad: The Lost Legacy of Ancient Mesopotamia, ed. Milbry Polk and Angela M. H. Schuster (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2005), 214–16.

2 “Fort Drum Plays Cards Right and Wins Award,” (accessed 19 May 2008). For information on the deck, see the Baghdad Museum site at Wikipedia carries the images of the most-wanted deck and the text of the Legacy Resource Management cards, and (accessed 19 May 2008).

3 For surveys of the damage, see Angel M. H. Schuster, “The Theft of Time,” and Micah Garen and Marie-Hélène Carleton, “Erasing the Past: Looting of Archaeological Sites in Southern Iraq,” in Polk and Schuster, The Looting of the Iraq Museum, 10–14, 15–19 (see also the bibliography of publications on these events and the response by international community, 226–27); Bernhardsson, Magnus T., Reclaiming a Plundered Past: Archaeology and Nation Building in Modern Iraq (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2005), 14, 222–23; and the special issue of the International Foundation for Art Research, Art Loss in Iraq, IFAR Journal 6 (2003): 30–62. John Malcolm Russell covers the losses during the Gulf War in The Final Sack of Nineveh: The Discovery, Documentation, and Destruction of King Sennacherib's Throne Room at Nineveh, Iraq (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998). Among the many institutions tracking this developing story on their websites are UNESCO (, the University of Chicago (http://listhost.uchicago.idu/pipermail/iraqcrisis), IFAR (, and the Baghdad Museum ( For a defense of the military occupation and the damage to archaeological sites, see Joffe, Alexander H., “Museum Madness in Baghdad,” The Middle East Quarterly 11, no. 2 (2004), (accessed 19 May 2008).

4 Bernhardsson, Reclaiming a Plundered Past, 3. Iraq 65 (2003) reports that the British School of Archaeology in Iraq was “approached by the American military and asked to give information regarding the sites in Iraq under threat from bombing” (iii). Several archaeologists have noted in this context that the United States and United Kingdom have not signed the 1954 Hague Convention, which makes the military occupation of heritage sites illegal under international law (see Bahrani, “Babylon,” 241, and Meskell, Lynn and Preucel, Robert W., eds., A Companion to Social Archaeology [Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004], 317).

5 For studies of archaeology and propaganda in the Gulf wars, see Pollock, Susan, “Archaeology Goes to War at the Newsstand,” in Archaeologies of the Middle East: Critical Perspectives, ed. Pollock, Susan and Bernbeck, Reinhard (New York: Blackwell, 2005), 7896, and Pollock, Susan and Lutz, Catherine, “Archaeology Deployed for the Gulf War,” Critique of Anthropology 14 (1994), 263–84.

6 Fagan, Brian M., Return to Babylon: Travelers, Archaeologists, and Monuments in Mesopotamia, rev. ed. (Boulder, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 2007), ix, xi, xii.

7 Ibid., 342.

8 The rather heraldic titles of books on Layard are indicative of this enduring mode of heroic emplotment. They include Waterfield, Gordon, Layard of Nineveh (London: John Murray, 1963), Kubie, Nora Benjamin, The Road to Nineveh: The Adventures and Excavations of Sir Austen Henry Layard (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Books, 1964), Brackman, Arnold, The Luck of Nineveh: Archaeology's Great Adventure (New York: McGraw–Hill, 1978), and, most recently, Larsen, Mogens Trolle, The Conquest of Assyria: Excavations in an Antique Land (London: Routledge Press, 1996).

9 For an analysis of the trope of archaeological heroism, see Silberman, Neil Asher, “Promised Lands and Chosen Peoples: The Politics and Poetics of Archaeological Narrative,” in Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology, ed. Kohl, Philip L. and Fawcett, Clare (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 249–62.

10 Meskell and Preucel, A Companion, 315.

11 Representative studies include Kohl and Fawcett, Nationalism; Díaz-Andreu, Margarita and Champion, Timothy, eds., Nationalism and Archaeology in Europe (London: UCL Press, 1996); Ucko, Peter J., ed., Theory in Archaeology: A World Perspective (London: Routledge, 1995); and Kane, Susan, ed., The Politics of Archaeology and Identity in a Global Context (Boston: Archaeological Institute of America, 2003). Comprehensive bibliographies on nationalism and archaeology may be found in Meskell and Preucel, A Companion, 318, and in Kohl and Fawcett's introductory chapter, “Archaeology in the Service of the State: Theoretical Considerations,” Nationalism, 3–18. In the past decade many studies have emerged on archaeology's role in nationalist discourse in the former Ottoman territories of Greece, Egypt, and Palestine–Israel. Studies in Greek nationalism include Hamilakis, Yannis, The Nation and its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Dyson, Stephen L., In Pursuit of Ancient Pasts, A History of Classical Archaeology in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006); and Yalouri, Eleana, The Acropolis: Global Fame, Local Claim (New York: Berg, 2001). For a thorough survey of the politics of Egyptian archaeology in its colonial and postcolonial contexts, see Reid, Donald Malcolm, Whose Pharaohs? Archaeology, Museums, and Egyptian National Identity from Napoleon to World War I (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2002). See also Reid, Donald Malcolm, “Nationalizing the Pharaonic Past: Egyptology, Imperialism and Nationalism, 1922–52,” in Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East, ed. Jankowski, James P. and Gershoni, Israel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 127–49; Wood, Michael, “The Pharaonic Past as a Component of Modern Egyptian Nationalism,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 35 (1998): 179–96; Gershoni, Israel and Jankowski, James P., Egypt, Islam, and the Arabs: The Search for Egyptian Nationhood, 1900–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); and Hassan, Fekri A., “Memorabilia: Archaeological Materiality and National Identity in Egypt,” in Archaeology Under Fire: Nationalism, Politics, and Heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, ed. Meskell, Lynn (New York: Routledge Press, 1998), 200–16. Among recent studies of archaeology and Israeli nationalism are El-Haj, Nadia Abu, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Masalha, Nur, The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology and Post-Colonialism in Palestine–Israel (New York: Zed Books, 2007); Kletter, Raz, Just Past? The Making of Israeli Archaeology (London: Equinox, 2006); Ben-Yehuda, Nachman, Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the Myth of Masada (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002) and The Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel (Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995); Abu El-Haj, Nadia, “Translating Truths: Nationalism, the Practice of Archaeology, and the Remaking of the Past and Present in Contemporary Jerusalem,” American Ethnologist 25 (1998): 166–88; Silberman, Neil Asher, Archaeology of Israel: Constructing the Past, Interpreting the Present (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997); and Adel H. Yahya, “Archaeology and Nationalism in the Holy Land,” in Pollock and Bernbeck, Archaeologies, 66–77.

12 Bernhardsson, Reclaiming, 14. See also Shaw, Wendy M. K., Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2003).

13 For a short history of state archaeology in Iraq since World War II, see Bernhardsson, Reclaiming, 211–21. For an extensive examination of the Baʿth party's use of archaeology, see Baram, Amatzia, Culture, History, and Ideology in the Formation of Baʿthist Iraq, 1968–89 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991). For a concise study of the political uses of archaeology within the postcolonial Middle East, see Reinhard Bernbeck and Susan Pollock, “The Political Economy of Archaeological Practice and the Production of Heritage in the Middle East,” in Meskell and Preucel, A Companion, 335–52. For studies of the lingering effects of colonialism on Middle Eastern archaeology, see Silberman, Neil Asher, Between Past and Present: Archaeology, Ideology, and Nationalism in the Modern Middle East (New York: H. Holt, 1989); Goode, James, Negotiating for the Past: Archaeology, Nationalism, and Diplomacy in the Middle East, 1919–1941 (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 2007); and Caroline Steele, “Who Has Not Eaten Cherries with the Devil? Archaeology under Challenge,” in Pollock and Bernbeck, Archaeologies, 45–65.

14 Fales, Frederick Mario and Hickley, Bernard J., eds., Symposium Internazionale: Austen Henry Layard, tra l'Oriente e Venezia: Venezia (Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 1987).

15 Larsen, Conquest, 52.

16 Bohrer, Frederick N., Orientalism and Visual Culture: Imagining Mesopotamia in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

17 Díaz-Andreu, Margarita's ambitious A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007) is among the first works to challenge the comfortable narratives of archaeological heroism, disinterested science, and world heritage that archaeological communities have romantically impressed upon the origins of archaeology in the 19th century. She offers, to cite the title of her opening chapter, “An Alternative Account of the History of Archaeology in the Nineteenth Century,” which treats archaeology as discursively embedded within the political systems in which the discipline emerged, namely, nationalism, colonialism, and imperialism.

18 For a history of the complex diplomatic relations between Britain and Persia in this period, see Martin, Venessa, Anglo–Iranian Relations since 1800 (New York: Routledge, 2005).

19 Reade, Julian, Assyrian Sculpture, 2nd ed. (London: British Museum Press, 1998), 9.

20 For studies of the “Great Game,” see Hopkirk, Peter, The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia (London: John Murray, 1990) and On Secret Service East of Constantinople: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire (London: John Murray, 1994); Ingram, Edward, The Beginning of the Great Game in Asia, 1828–1834 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979); Johnson, Robert, Spying for Empire: The Great Game in Central and South Asia, 1757–1947 (London: Greenhill Books, 2006); and Meyer, Karl Earnest and Brysac, Shareen Blair, Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999).

21 Layard, Austen Henry, Nineveh and Its Remains, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1849). The title of this best-selling book is actually a misnomer, because Layard mistook the site at Nimrud for Nineveh. The distinction of this discovery belongs to Émile Botta. For studies of the book and its reception, see Bohrer, Orientalism, 149–54, and Malley, Shawn, “Austen Henry Layard and the Periodical Press: Middle-Eastern Archaeology and the Excavation of Cultural Identity in Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain,” Victorian Review 22 (1996): 171–89.

22 Layard, Nineveh, 1–2.

23 Layard, Austen Henry, Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia, Including a Residence Among the Bakhtiyari and Other Wild Tribes before the Discovery of Nineveh, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1887).

24 For firsthand accounts of the expedition, see Ainsworth, William Francis, A Personal Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition (London: Keagan Paul, 1888), and Chesney, Francis, Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition (London: Longmans, 1868).

25 Layard, Austen Henry, Autobiography and Letters, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1903), 1: 347.

26 Results of this expedition were first published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 7 (1842) under the title “Ancient Sites Among the Bakhtiyari Mountains, Extracted from a Communication by A. H. Layard, Esq., Dated 31 December 1840.” Layard's original report is archived in BL 39064.

27 See Layard Early Adventures, 2: 366. Both parties accepted joint European mediation with Britain and Russia in May 1843. This would result in the problematic settlement of the borders with the Second Treaty of Erzeroum in 1847, which Layard helped draft. Layard's various communications with the Foreign Office on the border issue are located in BL 39064. See Schofield, Richard N., Evolution of the Shatt Al-‘Arab Boundary Dispute (Wisbech, U.K.: Middle East and North African Studies Press, 1986) and Schofield, Richard N., ed., The Iran–Iraq Border, 1840–1958, 11 vols. (Farnham Common, U.K.: Archive Editions, 1989).

28 Layard, Early Adventures, 2: 372.

29 BL 38975, 51 (11 July 1842).

30 BL 58154, 85–86 (1 May 1844).

31 Layard, Autobiography, 2: 21.

32 “I was engaged in an important though secret mission, which, in the event of my discharging it to the satisfaction of the Ambassador, would in all probability lead to my permanent official employment in the East, the great object of my ambition” (Ibid., 2:22). For studies of Canning's part in the Eastern Question, see Bailey, Frank Edgar, British Policy and the Turkish Reform Movement: A Study in Anglo–Turkish Relations 1826–1853 (New York: H. Fertig, 1970); Hale, William M. and Bagis, Ali Ihsan, eds., Four Centuries of Turco–British Relations: Studies in Diplomatic, Economic, and Cultural Affairs (n.p.: Eothen Press, 1984); de Redcliffe, Viscount Stratford, The Eastern Question . . . A Selection from his Writings During the Last Five Years of His Life (London: John Murray, 1881); Lane-Poole, Stanley, The Life of the Right Honourable Stratford Canning, From His Memoirs and Private and Official Papers . . . , 2 vols. (New York: AMS Press, 1976); and Byrne, Leo Gerald, The Great Ambassador, A Study of the Diplomatic Career of the Right Honourable Stratford Canning. . . . (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1964).

33 These are located in BL 38940.

34 Layard, Early Adventures, 2:398.

35 Ibid., 2:399.

36 BL 38940, 36 (20 September 1842).

37 Layard, Autobiography, 2:33.

38 Ibid., 2: 40. For a concise history of British Foreign policy in the Middle East, see Bourne, Kenneth, The Foreign Policy of Victorian England, 1830–1902 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970).

39 Austen Henry Layard, “Suggestions made to Sir Stratford Canning for Settlement of the Persian Question, August 26, 1843,” BL 39064, 5–13.

40 Ibid., 9.

41 “These rivers were destined, in my belief, to become great military and trading highways. It was to the interest of England that their mouths should not be in the possession of a Power which might be hostile to her” (Layard, Autobiography, 2: 71–72), that is to say, Persia.

42 Layard, “Suggestions made to Sir Stratford Canning,” 9, 10.

43 Ibid., 11, 13.

44 BL 58154, 95 (4 September 1844).

45 For a summary of Canning's involvement with the British Museum, see Jenkins, Ian, Archaeologists and Aesthetes: in the Sculpture Galleries of the British Museum, 1800–1939 (London: British Museum Press, 1992), 154–58, 168ff.

46 Layard, Autobiography, 2:152.

47 BL 38976, 231–33 (9 October 1845).

48 Ibid., 320 (13 March 1846).

49 Letters from Layard to Canning during the excavations are to be found in BL 40637. Canning's letters to Layard are in BL 38976 and 38977.

50 For an account of this competition, see Bohrer, Frederick, “Layard and Botta: Archaeology, Imperialism, and Aesthetics,” in Historiography in the Cuneiform World, ed. Abusch, Tzvi et al. (Bethesda, Md.: CDL Press, 2001), 5563.

51 BL 58154, 157 (1 June 1846).

52 BL 40637, 20–21 (1 December 1845).

53 For a history of the decipherment, see Adkins, Lesley, Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon (London: St. Martin's Press, 2004).

54 BL 40637, 30–31 (15 December 1845).

55 For a schedule of the arrival of artifacts to the British Museum, see Jenkins, Archaeologists and Aesthetes, 156–58.

56 BL 38976, 234 (15 October 1845).

57 BL 40637, 63 (21 April 1846).

58 BL 38977, 47 (7 September 1846).

59 Ibid., 94 (16 November 1846).

60 Ibid., 47 (7 September 1846).

61 BM CE 32–1-1 (15 September 1846). A copy of these instructions is housed in the Public Records Office (“Memorandum for the Consideration and use of Mr. Layard,” FO 352/35).

62 JMA Acc 12604/349a (3 May 1849).

63 Ibid., 16 February 1849.

64 The Excavation Plan is archived at BM C24/2/49 (5 February 1849); “Mr. Layard's notes on the Gov't of the Arab Tribes of the Desert” at FO 352/35, 1848.

65 Mehmet Özdoğan, “Ideology and Archaeology in Turkey,” in Meskell, Archaeology under Fire, 111–23: 111–12.

66 Shaw contends that the museum project is a window onto the political environment of Turkish modernization and the formation of the Turkish republic. She relates that the “history constructed by Ottoman museums at the end of empire reveals the processes through which modern Turkey came to possess—and in turn become possessed by—its heritage. The museums thereby suggest how the many pieces of that heritage may fit together—neither as signs of backwardness nor as teleological strands of official historical narratives” (Possessors and Possessed, 217). She concludes that the museum did not ultimately serve European metanarratives of cultural evolution but instead pays them lip service as simulacra that break down these very narratives and the hegemonic political relations that they represent (225). See Goode, James, “Archaeology and Diplomacy in the Republic of Turkey, 1919–39,” in Turkish–American Relations: Past, Present, and Future, ed. Aydin, Mustafa and Erhan, Çağri (London: Routledge Press, 2004), 4965.

67 The demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban is a contemporary case in point. See Agnew and Bridgland, Of the Past, 231–74, for analyses of preservation efforts now being made at Afghan and Iraq sites.

68 For a study of the history of these tensions, see Schofield, Richard, “Old Boundaries for a New State: The Creation of Iraq's Eastern Question,” SAIS Review 26 (2006): 2739.

69 Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Sheridan, Alan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977). See also Pratt, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge Press, 1992), esp. chap. 9, “From the Victoria Nyanza to the Sheraton San Salvador,” which discusses imperialist readings of topography and the “deterritorialization” of indigenous peoples from the lands they occupy.

70 Layard, Austen Henry, Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon (London: John Murray, 1853), 245.

71 Shaw, Possessors and Possessed, 217, makes this observation.

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
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