08/16/2021 Iraq (International Christian Concern) – Around 17,000 looted artifacts were returned to Iraq in early August in an effort to restore the history back to its rightful country. Most of the items date to Mesopotamia and specifically a lost ancient city, Irisagrig, which was previously unknown until tablets surfaced referencing it. This is the single largest repatriation for Iraq-based artifacts.
“It restores not just the tablets, but the confidence of the Iraqi people by enhancing and supporting the Iraqi identity in these difficult times,” said Hassan Hadhem, the Iraqi minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities.
For three decades, Iraq has been subjected to antiquities looting. The southern portion of the country, part of ancient Mesopotamia, was subjected to heavy looting in 1991 following the first Gulf War. Following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, large-scale looting continued. Unexcavated archaeological sites were prime locations for those seeking to make a profit with forged documentation on international markets.
Around 15,000 of the artifacts are being returned by the Museum of the Bible and Hobby Lobby as a primary funder of the D.C museum. A 2017 investigation by the Department of Justice found that 5,000 historic pieces owned by Hobby Lobby were stolen and looted property. Following an internal investigation, even more artifacts were found to have illegitimate and forged paperwork and have since been scheduled to return to Iraq. The remaining 5,000 artifacts in the early August batch return come from Cornell University. They were gifted to the university by a private collector in 2000, though previously suspected to be from a looted site in southern Iraq.
A piece yet to be returned, though in the process, is one from early Mesopotamia that includes a fragment of the Gilgamesh epic that holds similarities to the Biblical stories of the Great Flood and the Garden of Eden, though it pre-dates the Old Testament by many centuries. It is the only piece being returned to Iraq that was exhibited in the Museum of the Bible.
Though many of the Museum of the Bible artifacts had not been analyzed, the pieces from Cornell University had been studied and published in reports. “We missed this great opportunity to study our tablets, our heritage,” Nadhem commented. Many archaeologists criticize the research of potentially looted items, depriving the origin country of studying their own artifacts first and it continues to fuel the demand and trade of looted items.
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