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‘Looted’ from Iraq, this sculpture may soon be returned to the country

The significance of the plaque is such that if it were sold in the open market, it would fetch a lot of money, in "tens of thousands of pounds"

By: Lifestyle Desk | New Delhi | September 28, 2020 4:40:46 pm
artefact, Iraq, looted artefact auction in UK, British Museum, Sumerian tablet, indian express newsA calf-head finial -- a decorative architectural feature also found in the city of Girsu (modern-day Tello) in southern Iraq. (Source: Instagram/@britishmuseum)

Believed to have been illegally smuggled out of the country and put up for auction in the UK, an ancient sculpture will likely be returned to Iraq, after it was seized by the Metropolitan police, The Guardian reports.

The sculpture is a Sumerian temple plaque, dating back to 2400 BC. While it was previously unknown, it is now being repatriated with the help of the British Museum which, it is believed, was the first to inform the police of its planned sale back in 2019.

Dr St John Simpson, the British Museum’s senior curator told The Guardian: “We’re used to coming across tablets, pots, metalwork, seals and figurines on the art market or in seizures that have been trafficked. But it’s really exceptional to see something of this quality. There are only about 50 examples of these known from ancient Mesopotamia. So that immediately places it on the high-rarity scale. We can be fairly sure that this object comes from the Sumerian heartland (modern-day Iraw). That is the area that got very badly looted between the 1990s and 2003.”

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It is being said that the plaque was not listed in any museum inventory.

It was first offered for sale in May 2019 by one TimeLine Auctions — an online auctioneer. The plaque was described as “a western Asiatic Akkadian tablet that had come from a private collection formed in the 1990s”. Dr Simpson said it did not appear Akkadian, but in fact, Sumerian.

The outlet reports that the sculpture has been carved from local limestone, and it depicts a seated male figure in a “Sumerian form of long skirt, known as a kaunakes, with a tufted pattern”.

Dr Simpson told the outlet that the figure could either have been a high priest or a ruler, as he can be seen holding a ceremonial goblet in his right hand. The artefact even bears some traces of burning — which was a feature found on previously-excavated finds at Girsu, one of the world’s first urban civilisations, on the site of modern-day Tello in southern Iraq. It is here that the British Museum has been carrying out archaeological training and excavations, the outlet mentions.

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The significance of the plaque is such that if it were sold in the open market, it would fetch a lot of money, in “tens of thousands of pounds”.

“The piece is not documented as having been looted and is not listed on any database, so it did not show on the checks with the Art Loss Register and other sources undertaken by us. TimeLine Auctions always seeks to assist in the recovery of illicit antiquities and we have been instrumental in a number of cases where it has been our own checks that have directly enabled items to be reclaimed,” Christopher Wren of TimeLine Auctions told The Guardian.

The artefact will be on display at the British Museum for two months before it is returned to Iraq.

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