Wednesday 8 July 2015

Iraq celebrates return of antiquities, appeals for world help

Iraq celebrated on Wednesday the return of hundreds of historical artefacts which had been looted, lost or loaned abroad over recent decades ('Iraq celebrates return of antiquities, appeals for world help', 9th Jul 2015). Three countries (the United States, Italy and Jordan) returned to Iraq 800 artefacts from museums, universities and auction houses in an event which marks a small victory for Iraqi authorities struggling to protect their heritage from theft and also destruction of sites and monuments by Islamist militants who have taken over in the northern borderlands of the country. 
Wednesday's collection of returned items, put on show at Baghdad's national museum, was modest compared to the suspected scale of the ongoing theft and destruction. It included dozens of metal spearheads which officials said dated back to Iraq's Sumerian era between 4,000 and 2,000 B.C., tiny vases, pottery seals and fragments with cuneiform writing. Some had been identified when they came up for sale at auction houses. Others were recovered from long-term loans to universities abroad, officials said. The collection included nearly 200 items that went missing from Iraq's presidential palaces in the turmoil which followed the U.S.-led invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein, they said. 
Attention was drawn during the event to the question of the alleged smuggling and sale of looted of artefacts by ISIL. Tourism and Antiquities Minister Adel Shirshab characterised the group as in the following terms: "We are not dealing with smugglers but a group that calls itself a state, carries weapons and trades in antiquities, the world must pay attention to the new danger".
More than three months after Islamic State fighters released video footage of them smashing statues and carvings at Mosul museum and the ancient sites of Hatra, Nimrud and Nineveh, Shirshab told Reuters [...] that footage showing destruction at the sites was deliberately put out to obscure Islamic State fighters' real aim. "Many of these antiquities were stolen to fund this terrorist group," he said.
The items returned include the Lamassu head , those plaques and objects handed over in Washington in March. I do not recall seeing the objects at the front of this shot before, are they the ones from Jordan or Italy? Or were they just tucked away right at the back of one of the ICE displays? Are they real antiquities? The 'cylinder seals' are rather large and oddly carved, that tablet....

With regard to the silly anti-social reaction of the dealers' coterie to this news, see also: Yasmeen Sami Alamiri, 'Iraq confident it can protect artifacts returned by U.S.', Al Arabiya News, 18 March 2015.

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