National Geographic : 2003 Oct
THE ARCHAEOLOGIST WHO STAYED BEHIND Tanks rumbling down the streets of Baghdad woke up Iraqi archaeologist Donny George before dawn on April 8. U.S. forces were entering the Iraqi capital, and George and a small group of his colleagues for weeks had been taking shifts sleeping in the Iraq Museum to protect it from looting. By late morning pro-Saddam mili tia were climbing over the museum walls while American helicopter gunships hovered omi nously above. His boss decided it was time to abandon the complex. Because of fighting and roadblocks, the staff couldn't return for three days, and George heard about Donny George stands amid the devastation of the trashing of the mu- the Assyrian Gallery in seum from BBC Radio. Baghda's Iraq Museum. "I couldn't sleep all night," he recalls. When he did get back, he was greeted by ransacked offices, an unknown number of artifacts smashed or looted, and hordes of re porters. Within days the researcher emerged as a spokesperson for the museum, thanks to his per fect English, unflappable manner, and obvious passion for the arti facts. While many Iraqi archaeologists-and most of his family-emigrated long ago, George stayed behind during the grim decade of the 1990s. Now he faces the formidable task of find ing the money, equipment, and training necessary to get Iraqi archaeology back on its feet again.