Monday, June 16, 2008

"Stolen Artifacts Returned to Iraq"

That's the headline of a brief NYTimes article. Here are the opening sentences:
A cache of ancient artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq during the American-led invasion in 2003 were returned to Iraq’s Antiquities Ministry on Monday in a ceremony in Baghdad, Reuters reported. The items, 11 cylinder seals made from agate and alabaster between 3,000 and 2,000 B.C., were found in Philadelphia last month by American customs officials and turned over to the Iraqi embassy in Washington, a spokesman for the ministry said.
Those of us interested in the legitimate protection of the world's cultural property have realized that looting and theft in Iraq feeds the international market in illicit antiquities. While it is unfortunate that this story proves us right, it is a counter-balance to those who discount such a connection. As an example of such thought I offer this post from Peter Tompa and its admonition to:
watch out for claims that the long-promised 'tidal wave' of looted Iraqi material has finally left its secret warehouses for our shores!

Does the Times story describe a tidal wave washing back to Iraq? No. But add in the Syrian return mentioned there, along with what looks like an upcoming return from Jordan predicted in the Reuters version, and it's hard to justify the lighthearted approach to the problem of stolen Iraqi property taken in Tompa's "Cultural Property Observer".

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