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Gunmen loot 3,500-old Sumerian site

Attacks like these have increased recently amid reports that contraband trade in Iraqi antiquities scratched by illegal diggers from ancient sites was booming.
Azzaman, November 13, 2007

Tall Asmar, the famous ancient Sumerian settlement, has been stripped of its contents and digging implements, the Antiquities Department said in a statement.

The site in the restive and violent Diyala Province is Iraq's most important and significant Sumerian settlement in central Mesopotamia.

Known as Eshnunna among Mesopotamian scholars, it has given the Iraq Museum its famous and priceless collection of votive stone and marble sculptures representing tall and bearded figures with huge, staring eyes and long, pleated skirts.

"An armed group stormed the archaeological site, handcuffed the guards and stole its possessions," the department said in a statement.

Attacks like these have increased recently amid reports that contraband trade in Iraqi antiquities scratched by illegal diggers from ancient sites was booming.

Eshnunna was the capital of a prosperous Sumerian kingdom bearing the same name.

The quality of items the gunmen took away might not be archaeologically significant but the attack sends yet another signal that the country's ancient history is under real threat.

Iraqi archaeologists, refusing to be named for security reasons, say the authorities normally decline to report attacks by illegal diggers and armed groups on ancient sites.

One scholar said he believed the attack on Eshnunna was made public in order to discredit anti-government rebels still active in Diyala Province.

Most of the country's Sumerian heritage lies in the south where illegal diggers have almost a free hand, another scholar said.

Eshnunna, excavated by both Iraqi and foreign archaeologists, has produced evidence of the high degree of excellence these ancient Iraqi artists had reached.

The finds from this Sumerian capital show a geometric simplification of forms whose ingenuity, esthetics and beauty appeal to modern taste.

Though excavated in the past, Iraqi scientists say many more artifacts are still buried in Eshnunna as only the landmark mounds of the extensive city have been uncovered so far.


More recent news on Iraqi antiquities here:

Iraq asks Britain to return hundreds of missing artifacts
Azzaman, November 8, 2007

Iraq asks Britain to return hundreds of missing artifacts 20.Nov.2007 03:36


The Iraqi government has asked British authorities to hand over to the Iraq Museum 654 priceless archaeological pieces that went missing shortly after U.S. invasion troops landed in Baghdad in 2003.
Azzaman, November 8, 2007

A statement by the Ministry of Archaeology and Tourism said the pieces were among the thousands of artifacts that were looted from the Museum and the British authorities were under obligation to return them.

The statement faxed to the newspaper said the artifacts were bought by a Norwegian dealer passed to a British university for evaluation and authenticity.

The statement did not name the university but said the scholars there found that the treasures belonged to the Iraq Museum and were among the pieces that went missing.

The Norwegian had bought them from a Jordanian national who claimed they had been part of family possessions for decades.

The ministry, the statement said, has learned that the British authorities have already started handing over the items to the Norwegian despite complaints by British archeologists that they should be returned to Iraq.

The statement made no mention of the nature of the pieces and the historical period they belonged to.

The ministry says more than 10,000 items are still missing. Iraqi archaeologists have published records of the stolen items along with their pictures and museum serial numbers.

The register is also available electronically to make it easy for official art dealers, academics and police authorities to identify.