Thursday, 27 March 2014

British Museum Not Bidding For Fragment of Assyrian Stele, Even Though it Has The Rest

Artistically broken
chunk of carved basalt

Another object in the April 3rd Bonhams sale in the news is the lower part 1.4m tall (lot 99 est. £600,000 to £800,000) of an Assyrian royal stele dedicated to King Adad-nerari III of Assyria (c. 805-797 B.C.) from Tell Sheikh Hamad (eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border). The Syrian site has been excavated since the 1970s by German archaeologists led by Hartmut Kühne. After a previous failed attempt to sell it at Christie’s New York in 2000, Karen Radner (an Assyriologist at University College London), linked the piece with a fragment of the upper part of the same object in the British Museum and identified the praying figure as Adad-nerari III (Martin Bailey, 'British Museum will not bid for fragment of Assyrian stele—even though it owns the rest', The Art Newspaper 27 March 2014). The basalt stele would have been installed at a shrine commemorating a military victory. The British Museum’s fragment (Inv. No. BM 131124; 1881,0721.1), depicting the head of the king, was discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1879 and accessioned two years later. The piece consigned to Bonhams depicts the lower two-thirds of the praying king. It is being sold by a private collector in Geneva and was “given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s”, according to the auction house, but no details about when it left Syria are available. Bonham's description only suggests: "it seems this lower stele section, forming the larger part of the monument must have been removed prior to [1978] and likely prior to 1975 when Kühne began surveying the site". A curse written in cuneiform on the object condemns anyone who removes the stele from its original site.

UPDATE 28th March 2014
Nord on Art ('Hazy History for some Antiquities at Bonham’s, April 2014' – UPDATED March 28, 2014) mentions this piece too and adds the following information.  The organization Heritage for Peace suggests in its March 26, 2014 newsletter (following an article in Al-Akhbar, 17 March 2014) that the relief is could be recently looted, Bonhams is interpreting that the fact that it was not seen by Kühne as meaning it had already been removed from the site, an alternative explanation is that it was still buried in an area not explored by Kühne (the upper part had been hurled down the side of the tell) contains the following:
The article publishes a video entitled “Stop the Theft and Sale of Antiquities in Syria”, by the Saadeh Cultural Foundation. The video is addressed to UNESCO, the Syrian Government and Bonhams. The video claims that Auction Lot 99, which is apparently from Tell Shiekh Hamad, in Haseke province, is looted, despite Bonhams claim is was excavated in the 1970s. [...] Therefore, the foundation argues, it must be looted. Looting has certainly been reported at the site since at least September 2012.
To read the full article (in arabic) and see the video (arabic with English subtitles) in Al-Akhbar, click here.

H. Rassam, Asshur and the Land of Nimrod, being an account of the discoveries made in the ancient ruins of Nineveh, Asshur, Sepharvaim, Calah, etc, Cininnati & New York, 1897, p.312.

K. Radner, 'The Stele of Adad-nerari III and Nergal-eres from Dur-Katlimmu (Tell Saih Hamad)' in Altorientalische Forschungen, Vol.39, Berlin, 2012, pp.265-277.

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