British Museum identifies looted Iraqi antiquities, sends them home

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A handout picture released by the British Museum in London on August 9, 2018 shows a collection of looted antiquities, dating from between 2200BC to 3000BC, that were confiscated by British police in May 2003 and are provenenced to the ancient city of Girsu, now known as Tello, in southern Iraq. (AFP)
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A handout picture released by the British Museum in London on August 9, 2018 shows a Sumerian clay cone, dating to around 2200BC, bearing a cuneiform inscription, identical to inscribed cones found on the site of the Eninnu temple in the ancient city of Girsu, now known as Tello, in southern Iraq, that were looted and confiscated by British police in May 2003. (AFP)
Updated 09 August 2018

British Museum identifies looted Iraqi antiquities, sends them home

  • The eight objects were confiscated by British police in May 2003, a few months after the US-led invasion of Iraq
  • The fired clay cones carried Sumerian inscriptions that gave a clue to their origins

LONDON: The British Museum said Thursday it is returning to Iraq a collection of looted antiquities up to 5,000 years old, after identifying the exact temple they came from in a unique piece of archaeological detective work.
The eight objects were confiscated by British police in May 2003, a few months after the US-led invasion of Iraq, from a now defunct dealer in London who failed to provide any paperwork.
Normally the detailed provenance of such items would be hard to establish, but three of them, fired clay cones, carried Sumerian inscriptions that gave a clue to their origins.
In a remarkable coincidence, they were identical to cones found on a site in the ancient city of Girsu, now known as Tello, in southern Iraq, where the British Museum has been training Iraqi archaeologists since 2016.
“The broken objects the robbers left next to the looting holes were broken cones with exactly the same inscription that we have on the cones that were seized,” said the team’s lead archaeologist, Sebastien Rey.
Identical cones were also found in the walls of a site at the Eninnu temple — pinpointing the looted items’ source with a level of accuracy that Rey said was “completely unique.”
“We could have an idea that maybe these objects came from southern Iraq, but to be able to narrow it down to the particular site, and even to the particular holes — this is extremely rare,” he told AFP.
He added: “If we don’t have any information on the objects, you can’t identify their provenance, and that’s the main problem in combating the illicit trade.”
The looting at the site is not as extensive at other places in southern Iraq, suggesting the objects that ended up in London were taken at night, possibly by a small number of people.
The objects will be handed to the Iraqi embassy on Friday during a private ceremony at the museum, from where they will return to Iraq and eventually, Rey hopes, will go on public display.
Iraq’s ambassador, Salih Husain Ali, praised the museum’s staff for their “exceptional efforts” in identifying the antiquities.
“Such collaboration between Iraq and the United Kingdom is vital for the preservation and the protection of the Iraqi heritage,” he said in a statement issued by the museum.
“The protection of antiquities is an international responsibility and in Iraq we aspire to the global cooperation to protect the heritage of Iraq and to restore its looted objects.”
The three cones each have an identical cuneiform inscription which references the god the temple was built for and the king who built it, and date back to around 2,200 BC.
Similar cones have been found in many other sites but Rey said that until the Tello excavation began in 2016, no one really knew what they were for.
Finding them in their original positions inside temple walls led experts to conclude they were votive objects, dedicated to the gods by Mesopotamian kings.
The British Museum collection also includes a polished, yellowish river pebble and a fragmentary white gypsum mace-head, both of them inscribed.
There is also a white marble amulet pendant in the form of a reclining bull or buffalo, and a red marble square stamp seal or amulet depicting two similar animals facing in opposite directions, which both date back to 3,000 BC.
The final item in the collection is a white chalcedony stamp seal with a flat oval face engraved with the design of a reclining sphinx.


So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

Updated 27 May 2020

So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

  • Iranian president Rouhani has urged his cabinet to speed up the introduction of harsher laws against such killings

TEHRAN: The so-called honor killing of a 14-year-old Iranian girl by her father, who reportedly used a farming sickle to behead her as she slept, has prompted a nationwide outcry.
Reza Ashrafi, now in custody, was apparently enraged when he killed his daughter Romina on Thursday after she ran away with 34-year-old Bahamn Khavari in Talesh, some 320 kilometers (198 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran.
In traditional societies in the Middle East, including Iran, blame would typically fall on a runaway girl for purportedly having sullied her family’s honor, rather than on an adult male luring away a child.
Romina was found five days after leaving home and taken to a police station, from where her father brought her back home. The girl reportedly told the police she feared a violent reaction from her father.
On Wednesday, a number of national newspapers featured the story prominently and the social media hashtag #RominaAshrafi reportedly has been used thousands times on social media, with most users condemning the killing.
Proposed legislation against honor killings has apparently shuttled for years among various decision-making bodies in Iran.
On Wednesday, Romina Ashrafi’s case led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to urge his Cabinet to speed up harsher laws against such killings and he pushed for speedy adoption of relevant legislation.
There is little data on honor killings in Iran, where local media occasionally report on such cases. Under the law, girls can marry after the age of 13, though the average age of marriage for Iranian women is 23. It is not known how many women and young girls are killed by family members or close relatives because of their actions, perceived as violating conservative Islamic norms on love and marriage.
Iran’s judiciary said Romina’s case will be tried in a special court. Under the current law, her father faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Iran’s vice president in charge of family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, expressed hope that a bill with harsher punishments will soon be in the final stages of approval.
Shahnaz Sajjadi, special assistant to citizens’ rights in the presidential directorate on women and family affairs, on Wednesday told the khabaronline.ir news website “We should revise the idea that home is a safe place for children and women. Crimes that happen against women in the society are less than those that happen in the homes.”