British Museum identifies looted Iraqi antiquities, sends them home

Published August 10, 2018
London: A Sumerian clay cone dating back to around 2200BC, identical to inscribed cones found on the site of the Eninnu temple in the ancient Iraqi city of Girsu.—AFP
London: A Sumerian clay cone dating back to around 2200BC, identical to inscribed cones found on the site of the Eninnu temple in the ancient Iraqi city of Girsu.—AFP

LONDON: The British Museum said on Thursday it is returning to Iraq a collection of looted antiquities up to 5,000 years old, after identifying the exact temple they came from in a unique piece of archaeological detective work.

The eight objects were confiscated by British police in May 2003, a few months after the US-led invasion of Iraq, from a now defunct dealer in London who failed to provide any paperwork.

Normally the detailed provenance of such items would be hard to establish, but three of them, fired clay cones, carried Sumerian inscriptions that gave a clue to their origins.

In a remarkable coincidence, they were identical to cones found on a site in the ancient city of Girsu, now known as Tello, in southern Iraq, where the British Museum has been training Iraqi archaeologists since 2016.

“The broken objects the robbers left next to the looting holes were broken cones with exactly the same inscription that we have on the cones that were seized,” said the team’s lead archaeologist, Sebastien Rey.

Identical cones were also found in the walls of a site at the Eninnu temple — pinpointing the looted items’ source with a level of accuracy that Rey said was “completely unique”.

“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,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018

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