Lost Iraq Treasures: Rare Geographic Photos

National Geographic News
May 30, 2003
Images of some of the exquisite treasures once housed in Baghdad's Iraq Museum—photographs made for National Geographic magazine but never published—have been released as part of the National Geographic Society's contribution to locating and preventing illegal trade in the artifacts.

Photo Gallery : Treasures of Iraq, Part One>>
Photo Gallery : Treasures of Iraq, Part Two>>

In 1989 photographer Lynn Abercrombie and her husband, former National Geographic staff writer Tom Abercrombie, went to Iraq to do a story on that country. While in Baghdad, Lynn made dozens of photographs of the exquisite antiquities housed in the Iraq Museum. Ultimately, National Geographic's editor held the story, awaiting more coverage, and it was never published in the magazine. Lynn Abercrombie still lives in the Washington area and recalled her experience in the museum some 14 years ago in a conversation today with National Geographic News:

How did you happen to make these photographs?

Lynn Abercrombie: We were in Iraq to do a country story for National Geographic magazine; Tom was writing it and I was to photograph it. While we were waiting for permission to move out of Baghdad to other areas, we decided to explore the Iraq Museum—and took the opportunity to make photographs of as many of the artifacts there as possible. The museum was closed at the time—it was just preparing to reopen after the Iraq-Iran war.

What was it like at the museum? And were you allowed to move around freely?

It was extremely hot so we could work only a few hours at a time. And we had to carry in all our equipment, including those heavy strobe lights. They kind of left us alone to work, so we walked around the museum and picked out what we wanted to shoot.

Did they cooperate with what you were doing?

Yes, the woman who ran it was so sweet, and she made some suggestions and unlocked the cases for us. It's a very light, open space. We shot the unique pieces that could be easily removed. We were able to photograph many beautiful, priceless objects.

What do you recall specifically?

There were several ancient scrolls that were round cylinders. Someone had brought in some child's modeling clay, and we rolled one of the cylinders in the clay, and it made an impression that had amazing detail. We looked everywhere in the city to buy more clay but couldn't find any, but those impressions we made resulted in some nice photographs. If you magnify the slides, the detail of the artwork will blow your mind. They let us keep the clay, and we still have it today.

Help Maintain Connections to the Past

The devastating loss of Iraq's historic treasures isn't an isolated event. Around the world artifacts and monuments are threatened by war, the elements, and lack of resources to preserve them. The threat extends to the worlds spiritual and intellectual legacy. Of the 6,000 languages known today, fully half are no longer taught to children, and each day ancient practices, skills, and wisdom fade from the landscape of human imagination.

As part of a growing commitment to maintain all links to our shared cultural past, the National Geographic Society has created the World Cultures Fund, which supports the work of archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, artists, and other professionals wherever the history of civilizations is at risk. The World Cultures Fund will support a wide array of initiatives including antiquities conservation and expeditions to reveal and share the unique stories of people around the globe. Other projects will include conservation of records of the past and celebration of enduring cultures through film, world music, and other mediums.

You can support these vital efforts by making a gift online at Gifts can also be mailed directly to: World Cultures Fund, National Geographic Society Development Office, 1145 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Editor's Note: If you're interested in helping promote worldwide recognition of these treasures, please feel free to link your Web pages to this story and/or the photo galleries.

More Iraq Stories from National Geographic News
National Geographic News: Iraq
Ancient Assyrian Treasures Believed Found in Baghdad
Hunt for Stolen Iraqi Antiquities Moves to Cyberspace
Bird Teams Flock to Iraq to Survey War's Impact
Q&A: Embedded Geographic Filmmaker on Iraq War
Iraq's Eden: Reviving the Legendary Marshes
Uniting Iraq's Disparate Cultures a Challenge, Experts Say
Baghdad Zoo Animals to Get Help From U.S. Zoos
Iraq: The State of the Postwar Environment
Humanitarian Crisis Looming for Iraq, Aid Workers Warn
National Geographic TV Reporter Embedded in Iraq
Dogs of War: Inside the U.S. Military's Canine Corps
Iraq Conflict: Following the "Laws of War"?
Dolphins Deployed as Undersea Agents in Iraq
Geography Shapes Nature of War in Iraq
Iraq War Threatens Ancient Treasures
Photographer Tells of Iraqi Kurds "In Agony"
Iraq Expert Predicts "Problems of Control"

More National Geographic Iraq resources:
Hot Spot: Iraq
History and Culture Guide
Maps and Geography

National Geographic magazine's online presentation Baghdad Before the Bombs (photo gallery, audio, excerpt from the print magazine, and more)

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