Monday, March 9, 2009

Iraqi Government Officials Turn Over Artifacts

This curious report has turned up about Iraqi government officials turning over antiquities and coins in their possession to Iraqi cultural authorities:

Government officials surrender 531 artifacts to Iraq Museum, among them gold and silver coins

By Zainab Khudair Azzaman, March 9, 2009

The Iraq Museum has received 531 archeological pieces which were in the possession of senior government officials. The pieces were handed over to the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Qahtan al-Jibouri who in turn gave them to the Iraq Museum, according to the ministry's spokesman Abdulzahara al-Talaqani.

Talaqani said the first batch comprising a magnificent collection of numismatic coins was returned to the museum by Minister of National Security Shirwan al-Waili.

This batch included 366 gold and silver coins of various colors, Talaqani said.

He said the second batch of 165 artifacts was kept by two members of parliament and included mainly statues and cylinder seals. Talaqani said Iraqi scientists who have examined both collections have said they were of astounding beauty and great value.

One magnificent piece, he said, was a pottery statue of a standing woman holding a beaker made of glass. It is the first time senior government officials are reported to have been in possession of so many artifacts.

The officials say the pieces were passed to them by ordinary people. Under a new law in Iraq holders of ancient relics whether stolen or dug up illegally cannot be prosecuted if they choose to hand them over to the authorities willingly.

In fact, the law makes it incumbent on the authorities to compensate and reward anyone returning antiquities by their free will. It is not clear whether the officials will get any compensation and Talaqani declined to say whether the pieces were among the thousands of missing artifacts or part of relics which are being dug up illegally by smugglers across the country."


This fragmentary report raises some questions. First, it is unclear why the report indicates that the coins are "of various colors." In any event, I'm not exactly sure what the Iraq Museum intends to do with more coins. Bogdanos has reported that the Iraq Museum already holds about 100,000 or so in storage. See:

It would also be interesting to learn if these artifacts were in some one's collection or whether they were looted after the fall of Saddam's regime. Finally, it is interesting that Iraq has evidently enshrined into law an amnesty for those who turn over such artifacts along with the promise of some compensation.

Addendum: Larry Rothfield has more details about the Iraqi program courtesy of Dr. Donny George:

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