Saturday 18 July 2015

From Erbil to Baghdad: That Abu Sayyaf Nefertiti

While on the question of fakes, that Nefertiti deserves more comment. We do not know what it is made of, hand carved stone |(soft limestone, alabaster) of cast material (resin or plaster) are all possible. I am going to guess that it is 'hand carved in Egypt' and of alabaster.  It is atrocious condition, unlike the other stuff in the Abu Sayyaf stash. I think it never was part of the stash, but added to it by a know-nothing US squaddie searching for anything that looked old in the house. How it got in the house is unknown, but it looks to me as if a tourist piece brought to eastern Syria from Egypt was dropped somewhere wet (alabaster is soluble in water) and lay there for some time before somebody stumbled across it and took it to Abu Sayyaf, maybe he thought it was a real antiquity, maybe as a joke. Maybe Abu Sayyaf kept it as a joke. Who knows? We have absolutely zero proof that Abu Sayyaf or anyone else was trying to sell it as "an antiquity dug up in Syria/Iraq" . 

The same goes for that crucible. A squaddie from Long Island in a hurry in a night time raid could have thought the primitive shape of a pot he found on a shelf or in a cupboard meant it might be old. Abu Sayyaf may have got it from one of the factories as a sample of the sort of thing they needed more of and he was going to procure as connected with the group's finances (the factory could for example have been processing seized jewellery and other items as bullion). We have absolutely zero proof that Abu Sayyaf or anyone else was trying to sell it as "an antiquity dug up in Syria/Iraq" . 

I suggested the plaques might be fakes, and Sam Hardy suggests the bracelets might be. Who knows? At least they look more like antiquities.

It is only a couple of days later that the significance of something I saw on the original German video of the objects arriving and being unpacked became clear. I was puzzled by the fact that the groups of artefacts were bagged with labels that were very vague and non-descriptive and mainly concentrated on the number of the photo on which they appear. Then it dawned on me. These objects were not being repatriated "from America" by the authorities in Washington. They had arrived in the National Museum of Iraq from a US base on Iraqi soil. This was the base (near Erbil) from which the raid had been launched, where Abu Sayyaf's widow was taken, and where presumably the material seized from the house went. The material was not being "repatriated" at all, but sent from one part of Iraq to another. 

What I think has happened is that a team of US (and Iraqi?) intelligence officers has been sitting down and working through the material brought back from the  Al-Amr raid, sorting through it. This would involve preliminary cataloguing and recording (photography  and archiving of the evidence). This is what we see recorded on the labels of the bags of antiquities. The Intelligence team were separating out the categories of material. They ended up with a boxload of "things", rather than the documents they need for their main task. They had a boxload of "things" they themselves were not competent to deal with (none of them were archaeologists - nor did they need to be). They therefore passed it on to the experts. It seems they felt that the expertise that would be able to sort out what is what is found in the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, which is where they sent this batch of material, flying it over (or round) ISIL territory.  Apparently it will be the Iraqi museum staff who will inform the army what the material could mean, and determine what should happen to it.

This would explain several of the anomalies of this group.


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