Thursday, 7 July 2011

ICE Return Artefacts to Iraq

Readers of this blog may remember a while back US antiquity dealers were vehemently denying that any ancient artefacts looted from archaeological sites and museums in Iraq had ever found their way onto the US market. That was nonsense of course, but what seems to have been happening is that, sensitive to the issue of the looting that had taken place under US-led sanctions and then in the wake of the US-led invasion, US authorities were not making much of a media splash when cases were discovered. Today such sensitivities are less prominent and we can see the trade in antiquities is still going on and the US authorities are all-too-eager to show what they managed to stop at their porous borders and repatriated with the usual ceremonial and the usual speeches and backslapping. Even if it is mostly rubbish.

Today US Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that "ICE investigations result in return of artifacts to Iraq" (ICE News Release 7th July 2011).
Today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) returned a collection of objects illegally imported into the United States from Iraq. The objects were discovered as part of four separate investigations by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Tampa, Florida; Newark, New Jersey; El Paso, Texas; and Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Florida and Arkansas investigations concerned modern ("Saddam Hussein era" - sic) stuff.

The Newark case was an investigation begun in June 2007.
CBP officers contacted the ICE HSI Newark office regarding a gold [,] etched cornelian and lapis lazuli bead necklace, which was listed as originating from Italy. Expert examination revealed that the necklace is from southern Mesopotamia, possibly from the royal tombs at Ur. It dates back to approximately 2,500 BCE and may have been looted from the Baghdad Museum.
It is not stated whether it was being sent to a New Jersey dealer or collector.

The El Paso bust resulted from an investigation which the local ICE HSI office began in September 2010. This concerned: Iraqi antiquities for sale on Craigslist. Undercover ICE HSI special agents contacted the antiquities seller, a member of the U.S. Army. I am not clear what he was selling apart from two "marble slabs from Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palace [and] numerous items from Saddam's military". The vendor said he had bought them from locals while patrolling Iraqi towns while on service.

I can't help but think watching the video that this is much ado about nothing much (though I do like the over-the-top painting) and cannot help comparing this with what souvenirs US soldiers carted back home from Nazi Germany and occupied Japan. It is a shame they don't show the necklace.

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