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British Museum to return looted antiquities to Iraq

August 9, 2018

The 5000-year-old artifacts were seized by police from a now-defunct London dealer in 2003. After 15-years, experts established that the collection was looted from Iraq after the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

A tiny marble amulet of a bull
Image: British Museum

The British Museum will return a collection of 5,000-year-old antiquities to Iraq that were plundered after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The eight objects, which include a marble amulet of a bull, were seized by police from a now-defunct dealer in London who failed to provide any paperwork.

The artifacts remained in police custody until earlier this year when they were taken to the British Museum.

Experts at the museum got a clue to their origins after reading Sumerian inscriptions on three clay cones that were part of the collection. They established that the objects came from a site in the ancient city of Girsu, now known as Tello, in southern Iraq.

Rare find

The cone inscriptions name the Sumerian king who had them made, the god they were dedicated to and the temple where they came from.

A fired clay cone
Experts at the museum got a clue to the origins of the artifacts after reading Sumerian inscriptions on three fired clay cones.Image: British Museum

"We could have an idea that maybe these objects came from southern Iraq, but to be able to narrow it down to the particular site, and even to the particular holes — this is extremely rare," said archaeologist Sebastien Rey, who has been leading a British Museum team that has been training Iraqi archaeologists in Tello since 2016.

"If we don't have any information on the objects, you can't identify their provenance, and that's the main problem in combating the illicit trade," said Rey.

Iraqi heritage

The collection will be handed to the Iraqi embassy in London on Friday during a private ceremony at the museum.

One of the objects that the British Museum will return to Iraq on Friday.
The antiquities remained in police custody for 15 yearsImage: British Museum

Iraq's ambassador, Salih Husain Ali, praised the museum's staff for their efforts in identifying the antiquities.

"Such collaboration between Iraq and the United Kingdom is vital for the preservation and the protection of the Iraqi heritage," he said.

ap/amp (AFP, AP)

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