55 Card Pick-up (UPDATE)

The Pentagon will be sending 40,000 decks of cards to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is an attempt to raise awareness about the heritage of the two nations. Some may remember that there was another earlier deck of cards which showed the most wanted senior government officials.

Each card in the new deck shows a historic site or small antiquity. The goal is to show American troops that they should not pick up and take home artifacts. One would hope that such an education program had already been underway, but the troubling accounts at Babylon I talked about earlier reveal that is probably not the case.

A few of my favorite cards:

The seven of clubs shows the Ctesiphon Arch and says “This site has survived 17 centuries. Will it and others survive you?”

The five of clubs says “Drive around, not over, archaeological sites”.

The two of hearts shows ruins at Samarra and says “Ninety-nine per cent of mankind’s history can be understood through archaeology.”

Exactly right. Of course the US Military could have shown more concrete regard for these sites by better protecting and avoiding them during the invasion, or by abiding by the tenets of the 1954 Hague Convention. But if these cards raise awareness and stop a few GI’s from driving over millenia-old ruins they will have done their job. I would also expect them to be a major collectors item in the near future, and I’d like to have a deck myself.


Mark Rose of the Archaeological Institute of America kindly informs me that the AIA have some pages documenting the destruction in both Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are excellent. They also have a troop lecture program for troops headed to Iraq and Afghanistan, which you can read about here. That strikes me as an excellent idea, regardless of your stance on cultural property internationalism or the invasion of Iraq.

One can while away a lot of good time on wikipedia just learning about places like Ctesiphon, and it really is a pity many of these places have been damaged and looted in recent decades, by both Iraqis and invading forces during the periods of conflict.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “55 Card Pick-up (UPDATE)”

  1. I am linking to your excellent post, and I wholeheartedly agree that this is basically too little too late in terms of the American government taking an interest in preservation of cultural resources in Iraq. There are some dedicated archaeologists working within our government who have endeavored to steer a different course, though. Laurie Rush at Fort Drum, New York apparently had a hand in this and other projects to educate our soldiers to minimize their damage to Iraq’s rich archaeological heritage.

  2. The problem with this program is that it is addressing what is at most a very minor threat, while the looting by Iraqis at archaeological sites continues to decimate that country’s patrimony. These funds would have been much better spent paying for, or at least helping fund, one of the militarized police units that the Iraq Ministry of Culture is trying to put in the field.

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