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Know When to Hold 'Em
DOD issues deck of archeological monument playing cards

Preserving the integrity of Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s historical built environment and archeological treasures is high on the list of the U.S. military’s ongoing campaign to put a brighter face on an unpopular war. As part of an effort to train soldiers how to avoid destroying cultural assets, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) has issued a deck of educational playing cards.


The cards are part of a larger program called Training for In-Theatre Cultural Resource Protection, which will also employ Web-based training and simulated event training on mock ruins. Members of the archeology community are providing the research and background material for the program. The cards have been implemented in small-scale training exercises and will be mass-produced and distributed by the end of July.


Many of the cards bear images of archeological sites and artifacts accompanied by brief history lessons. The six of hearts, for example, pictures a carved stone tablet and reads, “The world’s oldest complete legal code was found in Iraq on a stone carved with an image of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, Ca. 1760 B.C.”


Other cards explain what constitutes an archeological site and how to conduct a mission while nearby. The five of clubs shows a soldier watching a Hummer drive across the desert. Its caption reads, “Drive around— not over—archeological sites.”


Others do double duty, explaining not only why the sites are significant to locals, but why they may be significant to soldiers as well. A card depicting the Nabi Yunis mosque in Mosul, Iraq, tells of how Jonah (he of the whale) is believed to be buried there.


Perhaps the most poignant of the cards, however, is the seven of clubs. It bears a photograph of the great banquet hall and colossal arch at Ctesiphon in Iraq, built by the Persians in the 2nd century B.C. Its inscription reads, “This site has survived for seventeen centuries. Will it and others survive you?"

Aaron Seward