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.

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