Iraq is scheduled to recover a valuable artifact that was secretly smuggled and offered for sale in the United Kingdom, after police confiscated it based on a report from the British Museum.
The British Middle East Eye website said that the piece – which dates back to about 4000 BC – was offered for sale in May 2019 at an online auction as “a clay tablet from the Akkadian civilization in West Asia.” .
According to the site, the British Museum monitored that advertisement and informed the police after it confirmed that the date, description and source were incorrect.
A valuable piece
Saint John Simpson, chief curator of the British Museum, confirmed to the Guardian that the artifact is a Sumerian painting, not an Acadia clay tablet.
The limestone painting was taken from an ancient Sumerian temple in southern Iraq. It depicts a seated man wearing a Sumerian skirt known as “kunaks”.
“We used to find clay tablets, pots, coins, seals and statues in galleries or among contraband holds, but it is really exceptional to see something of this quality,” Simpson says.
The British scientist adds that “there are only about 50 known pieces of these pieces that belong to the ancient Mesopotamian civilization. Therefore, they are immediately classified as extremely rare, and we can assert that this piece is one of the most valuable monuments of the Sumerian civilization. This area was looted terribly from 1990s to 2003. “
In fact, many archaeological sites in Iraq were looted, and many valuable items were smuggled in during periods of turmoil in the country, especially in the aftermath of the US invasion in 2003.
After seizing large swathes of Iraq in 2014, ISIS released videos showing the distortion of artifacts and dropping statues that had stood for thousands of years.
Despite the return of many smuggled antiquities to the Iraqi authorities over the past years, Iraqi officials confirmed to “Middle East Eye” last year that looting and smuggling of antiquities are still continuing in unguarded sites.
In a statement to the Guardian newspaper, the Iraqi ambassador, Muhammad Jaafar al-Sadr, to the United Kingdom “thanked the British Museum team for their efforts and cooperation.”
For his part, Christopher Wren of the company “Time Line Auctions”, which offered the piece for sale; The company was not aware that these artifacts were contraband. He added, “The piece was not registered as smuggled, nor was it included in any database, so it did not appear in the surveillance operations in the registry of stolen artworks and other sources that we rely on.” The price of the piece, if it is legally sold, is estimated at tens of thousands of pounds.
The site stated that the British Museum is constantly working to track the looted artifacts, and has succeeded, with the help of the British authorities, in returning more than 150 pieces to Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, the British Museum is constantly facing calls to return a number of antiquities that are classified as world heritage treasures, such as the Rosetta Stone and the Cyrus Cylinder, and many assert that these pieces were smuggled illegally in the British colonial era.
A report published by the British newspaper The Independent quoted Wafa Hassan, an archaeologist and head of the antiquities recovery department at the Iraqi National Museum, that “the lost Iraqi antiquities are in America, Britain, Switzerland, Lebanon, the UAE and Spain … and that there is an effort to recover them.”
According to Wafa, tens of thousands of artifacts were looted from Iraq and transferred to other museums and private collections.
Mesopotamia is the place where civilization was born, the first cities were built, and the first words were written.
In light of the war and instability that Iraq experienced in previous decades, thieves took advantage of this opportunity. European archaeologists routinely carried their discoveries back to their countries of origin in the early 20th century.
Illegal drilling was also common during the era of the late President Saddam Hussein, especially after the first Gulf War (1990-1991), but the chaos did not really begin until after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The author of the report, Richard Hull, added that on April 10, 2003, the Iraqi National Museum was completely looted, and more than 15,000 items were stolen.
While preparations were being made to reopen the museum, another disaster occurred in 2014, when ISIS took control of a third of the country, including thousands of archaeological sites and museums, and during its control destroyed many priceless statues, and smuggled the rest to obtain sums of money.
Reports indicate that ISIS managed to raise more than $ 100 million annually by selling stolen antiquities on the black market.
The report mentioned that among the missing pieces was a clay tablet with cuneiform writing from the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk (southern Iraq), dating back to about 3500 BC, and a cylinder bearing the name of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal from Babylon, dating back to the seventh century BC.
The Independent newspaper report stated that Iraq was able to recover nearly half of the antiquities looted in 2003, with the help of many foreign governments. In March of last year, Britain returned a rare Babylonian stone with cuneiform writing that had been confiscated at Heathrow airport while trying to smuggle it.
Source : The Independent + Al Jazeera + British Press + Middle East Eye