Looted 7th Century BC Artefact Returned To Iraq After Adorning US Museum For 17 Years

US authorities have repatriated a 2,700-year-old artefact stolen from a museum in Iraq 20 years ago.

The Iron Age artefact, named ‘Furniture Fitting with Sphinx Trampling a Youth’, was reportedly stolen during looting of the Iraq Museum in the city of Baghdad in 2003.

Made of ivory, pigment, and gold leaf, the item, which dates to the 7th century BC, was then bought from a third party by the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in the city of Atlanta, Georgia State, USA in 2006.

It remained on display at the museum until the object caught the attention of art crime investigators from the FBI in January last year (2022).

Photo shows an artifact that is believed to have been stolen during the pillaging of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2003 and returned to Iraq by FBI, undated. Archaeologists believe the artifact, which stands only 2 1/4 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches wide, dates back 2,700 years. (FBI/Newsflash)
Photo shows the back of an artifact that is believed to have been stolen during the pillaging of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2003 and returned to Iraq by FBI, undated. Archaeologists believe the artifact, which stands only 2 1/4 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches wide, dates back 2,700 years. (FBI/Newsflash)

They alleged that administrators at the museum were given a fake provenance during the purchase.

They then contacted Iraqi experts, who sent them photos of the 2.25-inch-tall, 1.5-inch-wide object adorning the shelves of the Baghdad Museum in 1983.

After a year-long investigation ruled that the item did indeed belong to Iraq, the FBI presented the artefact to diplomats at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. on 15th March.

A special ceremony was organised to honour the handover.

FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Keri Farley said in a statement obtained by Newsflash: “While we realize there was no ill intent on behalf of Emory University, we are glad our agents could return a small part of history back to where it belongs in Iraq.

“Our agents work diligently with our law enforcement partners around the world to return artifacts to their rightful owners.”

Gloved hands carefully place the newly returned artifact, “Furniture Fitting with Sphinx Trampling a Youth,” in a display case during a March 8 repatriation event at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington, D.C. Archaeologists believe the artifact, which stands only 2 1/4 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches wide, dates back 2,700 years. (FBI/Newsflash)

FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta, who also took part in the investigation, said: “We are incredibly grateful and honored to have identified and participated in the return of this historic artifact to the people of Iraq, after it was looted from Iraq’s National Museum 20 years ago, along with thousands of other priceless antiquities.

“This specific piece is distinct because it is the first artifact that was looted from Baghdad to end up in a United States museum collection and FBI Boston is extremely proud to have played a role in helping to recover it.

“This case represents our ongoing commitment to pursue justice for victims of art crime here and abroad, and to rectify such losses to the historical record.”

Special Agent Rafael Jimenez added: “The protection of the world’s cultural heritage is a priority for the U.S. government.

Special Agent Jake Archer, left, a member of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, and Salwan Sinjaree, charg d’affaires at the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq, sign documents marking the return of a stolen artifact on March 8, 2023. Archaeologists believe the artifact, which stands only 2 1/4 inches tall and 1 1/2 inches wide, dates back 2,700 years. (FBI/Newsflash)

“The FBI Atlanta Field Office is honored to have the opportunity to do its part by returning this important piece of cultural heritage to the people of Iraq.

“The FBI is also grateful to the Michael C. Carlos Museum for its cooperation in this matter.”


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Story By: Georgina JadikovskaSub-Editor: William McGee, Agency:  Newsflash

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