JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 11 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 11 (pp. to )

THE RETRIEVAL OF KUWAIT NATIONAL MUSEUM'S COLLECTIONS FROM IRAQ: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE OPERATION AND LESSONS LEARNED

KIRSTY NORMAN



6 6. POSTRECOVERY ANALYSIS: LOSSES TO THE COLLECTIONS


6.1 6.1 Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah

Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah had all but 61 objects back, but its building was rendered unusable, having been torched by the Iraqi army during the retreat from Kuwait.

The losses fall into two categories. Whereas the collections in the museum were taken and put in “safekeeping” by the state of Iraq, the royal residences had, it seems, been allocated to the Republican Guard as booty, and most of the museum items lost from Dar al-Athar's collection were taken from Sheikh Nasser and Sheikha Hussah's home.

(1) The museum: The main loss from inside the museum was the pair of 14th-century Moroccan wooden doors, 3.5 m tall. The Iraqi Department of Antiquities staff had been unable to move them, and they were burned with the museum several months later. The metal fittings were found in the ashes. The doors were among the collection's great pieces. Although losses from Dar al-Athar were relatively few, they were quite serious.

A large proportion of the objects that were to suffer the most dramatic damage were those on display, which had no ready-made packaging or supports. Large stone and stucco objects fared particularly badly. The Iraqis were able to pack smaller objects with paper in tin trunks, but larger objects received little or no protection. The one large rug still out on display, a 17th-century medallion Ushak carpet, was rolled on itself, folded twice, and then trussed tightly with rope for the trip to Iraq in an open truck.

(2) The residence: None of the museum objects lost from the residence, which varied from carpets to carved Mughal emeralds, were to be found among the material in Baghdad. Having been taken by the Republican Guard, they were dispersed privately. Only one object, a dagger, has subsequently been recovered. It appeared on the market in Beirut.


6.2 6.2 The National Museum

The National Museum has not at the time of writing produced exact figures, but estimates that it has lost 20–30% of its collection. One of its three buildings and its planetarium were also burned out. It would seem very likely that most of the losses resulted, strangely, from the fact that the Iraqis did not take all of the collection away, so that large quantities of the more modern ethnographic material were left behind. It seems that this material may have been randomly looted. It is also possible that archaeological material went astray in Iraq. The Dar al-Athar collection seemed to be of less interest to the staff sent to get the collections, who were mainly archaeologists. The main damage to the National Museum collection was to large archaeological ceramics, which did not travel well.

Less immediately identifiable was the inevitable deterioration inflicted on vulnerable materials such as textiles and manuscripts by the intense heat during the moves from Kuwait to Baghdad, and to Mosul and back again. It seems that the collection traveled by open trucks, and temperatures in the sun in September are likely to have reached at least 50C. The temperature inside the tin trunks used to transport many of the smaller objects may have reached 80C. Resin and adhesive restorations that had sagged in transit attested to the heat. Serious damage (i.e., either irreparable or necessitating major restoration work) to both of the collections, however, averaged less than 10%.