'Thieves of Baghdad' author to speak at Stevens, June 29
Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos led hunt for stolen Iraqi treasuresHOBOKEN, N.J. -- Immediately after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, looters took the opportunity to steal priceless antiquities from the National Iraq Museum. Artifacts representing some of mankind's earliest civilization disappeared into the shadowy global black market for art.
Marine Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, a prosecutor turned treasure hunter and American war hero, will detail the story of how many of those stolen treasures were tracked down and returned to the people of Iraq in a talk he will deliver at Stevens Institute of Technology, June 29, 6:30 p.m. The event will be hosted by Hoboken Mayor David Roberts, The Reverend Geoff Curtis, and Stevens Professor Edward A. Friedman. It will take place in the first-floor auditorium of the Burchard Building at Stevens, located at Sixth and River Streets, across from the Lawrence T. Babbio, Jr. Center. Contact Mark Bogdanos at (201) 420-0033 or (201) 424-0065 for information and reservations.
Col. Bogdanos' best-selling book, "Thieves of Baghdad" (Bloomsbury), is part mystery, history, legal drama, and war epic, detailing Bogdanos' mission to find some of Iraq's most priceless treasures.
"On May 2, 2003, I was working my way through Iraq's national museum in the heart of Baghdad, investigating the rampage and the looting that had taken place during the war," he writes in the book. "We stepped over rubble and shattered glass, cracked sarcophagi, and broken heads of ancient statues."
Bogdanos' book talks about what he deems to be exaggeration among the media coverage and academics who claimed a catastrophic archeological tragedy. Original news reports were that 170,000 artifacts had been stolen from Iraq's Museum, a number that Bogdanos found to be greatly overblown.
Many of the pieces, he discovered, were moved and protected prior to the US invasion, while others were housed by Iraqis for safekeeping until after the war. In fact, the museum, which Saddam closed to the public for 20 years, was called "Saddam's gift shop," open only by special invitation.
The book recounts how highly organized thieves took 40 carefully selected pieces. Looters absconded with about 3,100 pieces; and thieves with inside knowledge of the museum removed more than 10,000 small coins, jewelry, and cylinder seals, an ancient form of written identification. Bogdanos' team was able to retrieve 95 percent of the looted pieces.
Additionally, 15 of the 40 treasures stolen by professionals have been tracked down as well. Most important, the treasure of Nimrud, which is made up of 613 pieces of gold jewelry, precious stones and ornaments from the height of the Assyrian civilization in 800 B.C., was found was found undamaged in the basement vault of a bank. It had been moved there by Saddam in 1990.
The treasure of Nimrud is commonly referred to as "Iraq's Crown Jewels."
Bogdanos explores the connection between the antiques trade and weapons smugglers. His mission was more than just to recover some of the most important artifacts of human history. It was also about keeping money and weapons out of the wrong hands.
In the book, his team goes on raids, negotiates recoveries, and follows leads from Zurich to Amman to London and New York.
"Dealers are just as necessary. In many cases, socially connected Madison Avenue and Bond Street dealers – the vital link between the smuggler and the collector – have made the sale before the theft," Bogdanos says in Chapter 14. "There are many more who would never sponsor a heist, but, like Pontius Pilate, know how to 'wash their hands' of unpleasant realities. Smugglers don't care whether the cargo is drugs, weapons, or antiquities – they get paid for their ability to evade the law."
He said that antiquities smuggling is also helping to fund insurgency in Iraq.
In November 2005, Bogdanos was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Bush. He was released back into the Reserves in Oct. 2005 and returned to the DA's office, where he continues to hunt for stolen antiquities. Copies of Bogdanos' book will be on sale to benefit the National Iraq Museum.
About Stevens Institute of Technology
Established in 1870, Stevens offers baccalaureate, masters and doctoral degrees in engineering, science, computer science, management and technology management, as well as a baccalaureate in the humanities and liberal arts, and in business and technology. The university has enrollments of approximately 1,780 undergraduates and 2,700 graduate students, and a current enrollment of 2,250 online-learning students worldwide. Additional information may be obtained from its web page at www.Stevens.edu.
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