Here's more food for thought on the looting of cuneiform tablets from Iraq:
You read that correctly, the article was written in 2004, and reported that well over 150,000 tablets were being looted from Iraq per year.
But what really grabbed my attention here was ASOR's "policy" in the wake of the looting of Iraq's antiquities after the Baghdad Museum looting. Observe that the policy relates "to publishing unprovenanced artifacts." Then comes the whopper:
"Because of current conditions in Iraq, "return to Iraq" would include temporary placement of the material on loan with an academic research institution in the United States which is approved by the SBAH, does not acquire undocumented antiquities, and commits in writing to transfer such material to Iraq at any time upon request from the SBAH. Such material will be numbered and photographed and this information shall be transmitted to the SBAH before publication or presentation. Under no circumstances could such material be sold or title transferred to any institution outside of Iraq. The ASOR Baghdad Committee can make a determination as to when conditions in Iraq permit the immediate return of materials to Iraq and this provision for temporary placement in a US institution would then no longer be applicable."
You read that correctly: the ASOR itself would determine when the conditions were stable enough in Iraq for the return of "unprovenanced" artifacts, giving it virtual carte blanche to retain possession of whatever it wished for however long it wished.
Given the context of all those untranslated (and one can only assume to some extent uncatalogued) cuneiform tablets, the policy gives one pause, for what do those tablets contain? As of yet, no one has been sufficiently forthcoming on that point.
While one may safely assume that the vast amount of these tablets will be records of some sort, and contain information only of interest to the archaeological or historical specialist, the possibility remains that some of them might contain more sensational knowledge.
Therewith, once again, we have another indicator of the possible real motivations behind the thefts, and for the reticence of western governments to return lowly cuneiform tablets to an "unstable Iraq" while every effort has been bent to return the priceless objects of art to that same "unstable Iraq." This, in itself, to my mind speaks volumes about what the real motivations for the lootings were all along: recovery and monopolization of knowledge.