Saturday 29 September 2018

Barakat Gallery selling cuneiform tablets with no documented history

Barakat Gallery is selling a load of cuneiform tablets and foundation nails with no documented history. I am not clear when they went up on Bakarat's website. Are they recent additions? There are 184 cuneiform tablets on sale, no stated provenance, though "the Barakat Gallery has secured the services of Professor Lambert (University of Birmingham), a renowned expert in decipherment and translation of cuneiform, to examine and process the information on these tablets".  If so, they've - for some reason unstated - been hanging on to them for some time. Prof Wilfred Lambert died 9th November 2011 (see also here).  No dates are given by Barakat for the Lambert opinions. the date when these posts went up is not given, I suspect these were not online when I was researching for my Gudea of lagash cone post a month ago, and it is telling, perhaps, that the page (here) does not at the time of writing have a Google cache duplicate.

The descriptions are strong on narrativisation of the objects, but skimpy on the details of 'grounding', where they come from and which came from the same site, and which come from where. Also is nothing is said about whether they've been fired or not. Some of the tablets are pictured upside down.

Among the items on sale are as many as eleven Gudea of Lagash foundation nails, presumably arriving on the market with others discussed elsewhere on this blog ('Museum of the Bible Showcases More of its Potentially Dodgy Antiquities', PACHI Saturday, 8 September 2018) that I suggest the evidence strongly suggests are from post-sanctions looting (post 1990) but predating the 2003 invasion. If so, what does this tell us about the origins of the Barakat gallery cunies? Where are the tablets from?

Internal evidence shows that one of them is from Umma.  Several are said to be from 'Syria', such as this one (LSO.22) that mentions Ur-mes, the city governor of Iri-Sagˆrig. Ur-Mes is also mentioned on AM.0065AM.0071,  AM.0119 (as a messenger), AM.0211LSO.110 and LK.134, all said to be from the "Eastern Mediterranean" but also CT.035 , CT.026 said to be from "Central Asia" (sic). This is interesting because tablets from this site, apparently first found and looted in 2003, were among those smuggled by Hobby Lobby via the United Arab Emirates and Israel in 2010 and 2011 and recently returned, to Iraq ('Stolen Sumerian Tablets Come from the Lost City of Irisagrig' PACHI Wednesday, 2 May 2018 ). It is interesting to speculate why some of these cunies are specifically said by the seller to be from "Syria". Were they dug up in Iraq in the 1990s, and early 2000s, stored somewhere and then moved to Syria where they obtained some sort of documentation, and then from Syria ("Eastern Mediterranean") sold to dealers who took them west to the UK some time before Prof Lambert died (ie before 2011)? Is that it? Or are the Lambert translations in fact verifiably his? There are fakes of his opinions known to have been in circulation, Lambert opinions are very controversial.

Two tablets ( AM.0101 and LSO.109) mention Ikum-Meshar, "keeper of the dogs" and probably came from the same archive (Cf. some of the Hobby Lobby ones). It is interesting to note that the dealer's catalogue numbers do not belong to the same series, suggesting that these items arrived in several smaller shipments (perhaps with the Iraqi incantation bowls the same dealer is selling from his US, UK and Seoul shops).

Is this (below) what this evidence is telling us? The origins of material from Lagash, Umma and Irisagrig were obscured by scattering them and taking them through several other ports, before they made their way west between 1990 (2003?) and 2011. The material was taken via a Syrian route and a 'Central Asian' one to the UK where it was examined by Prof Lambert ? I am suggesting that Pakistan might be the area involved, as Barakat has a lot of Indus Valley objects as well. The Hobby Lobby tablets, including some from the same site that supplied the Barkat stockroom, went through Saudi Arabia and Israel. I've added Dubai for good measure.

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