UK to return looted Sumerian artifact to Iraq

A handout picture released by the British Museum in London on 28 September 2020 shows a Sumerian plaque, dating to around 2400BC, and belonging to the Early Dynastic III period of southern Iraq, that was smuggled out of Iraq and then seized from an online auction site by the UK authorities. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 September 2020

UK to return looted Sumerian artifact to Iraq

  • Temple plaque found in online auction spotted by experts at British Museum
  • Thought to have been stolen from Tello in southern Iraq, site of ancient city of Girsu

LONDON: An ancient artifact that may have been looted before being smuggled to the UK is set to return to Iraq.

The item is a Sumerian temple plaque featuring the seated figure of a high priest or ruler, carved from limestone and dating from around 2400 BC.

It will be sent to Iraq, where it is thought to have originated, after it was spotted for sale and seized by police in 2019 following a tip off by experts at the British Museum in London.

The plaque will be put on display to the public for the next two months at the museum before its repatriation.

Prior to its discovery, no record of the plaque was found in any official record or museum inventory, lending credence to the theory that it may have been looted.

It bears physical resemblances to other Sumerian artifacts discovered at Girsu, one of the world’s oldest known settlements, at modern-day Tello in southern Iraq.

Girsu, originally excavated by French archaeologists from the late 19th century, has also been the focus of researchers from the British Museum in recent years. Even now, only a small part of the site has been successfully excavated.

The trade in stolen and smuggled items of huge value from the Middle East is lucrative, and a constant source of dialogue between the British Museum and international police forces hunting stolen goods.

“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,” said Dr. St. John Simpson, the museum’s senior curator.

“There are only about 50 examples of these known from ancient Mesopotamia. So that immediately places it on the high-rarity scale,” he added.

“We can be fairly sure that this object comes from the Sumerian heartland. That is the area that got very badly looted between the 1990s and 2003.”

Christopher Wren of TimeLine Auctions, where the plaque was spotted for sale by Simpson’s colleague Sebastien Rey, admitted that it was possible that it had been looted from Iraq. 

“The vendor, who had casually and innocently acquired it from a German arts fair some years ago, was horrified to hear this and immediately volunteered to renounce any claim to ownership and expressed the wish that it be returned to its place of origin,” Wren said.

“The piece is not documented as having been looted and is not listed on any database, so it did not show on the checks undertaken by us.”

Mohammad Jaafar Al-Sadr, Iraq’s ambassador to the UK, said: “We extend our gratitude to the British Museum staff for their efforts and cooperation with us.”

A Jordanian holistic snacks range sweetens a healthy lifestyle

Updated 53 min 38 sec ago

A Jordanian holistic snacks range sweetens a healthy lifestyle

  • Karma Bdeir’s snacks company sprang from her desire to satisfy her own sweet tooth in a healthier way
  • The MedShed provides holistic alternatives in a region where obesity and diabetes have become prevalent

AMMAN: When discussing healthy eating patterns and holistic wellbeing, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is not the first region that comes to mind. Now young Arab entrepreneurs are starting to change that. Karma Bdeir, a Jordanian-Syrian who grew up in Saudi Arabia, is one of them.

Bdeir launched The MedShed five years ago with the aim of reintroducing healthy eating to the region under the theme “mind, body and soul.”

“There has been some major development over the past three years in the MENA region in consumer habits and there is still room to grow,” said Bdeir. “It’s so refreshing to see so many new healthy brands arising in the region and more awareness around healthier alternatives.”

Based in Amman, Bdeir’s healthy snacks company sprang from her own desire to satisfy her sweet tooth in a healthier way, at a time when there were few healthy options available.

Initially it started off as a hobby while she worked in interior architecture. Shortly after, she created a food and health blog, and received a certification in Holistic Nutrition from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York.

“I have always loved health and nutrition, and found myself immersed in learning about the holistic wellness industry,” she said. “The MedShed was born out of my own relationship with food and body because I had a lot of misconceptions — I focused way too much on being too strict with eating healthy and being perfect about it.”

One of her courses highlighted the differences between primary and secondary food, and what she calls a “game changer” for her. “Secondary food is the food that you eat that pertains to you as an individual and to your lifestyle,” she said. “Whereas primary food has nothing to do with food — it’s about relationships, productivity, physical activity and spirituality. When I started looking at it through that lens, I saw the missing link. Health goes way beyond food.”

She started focusing more on internal healing, feeding herself through primary food and balancing the scales.

Based in Amman, Bdeir’s healthy snacks company sprang from her own desire to satisfy her sweet tooth in a healthier way, at a time when there were few healthy options available. (Supplied)

“My mother inspired me to look at things through a holistic lens.” Bdeir said. “Pills are not the answer. You need to heal from within, find out what is unbalanced in yourself and let the symptoms be your guide. It’s all about healing yourself from the inside out.”

When she launched her snack line from home in May 2015, she was the first to successfully introduce healthy sweets and snacks to Jordan. And when Amman opened its first juice shop, Seed, at around the same time, she was able to start selling her products, which also began appearing at local shops and gyms, before moving into supermarkets. “I was simultaneously doing health coaching and testing out my product range,” Bdeir said. “It took two years to develop the recipe for my cookies. I did a lot of trial and error, market research and feedback.”

After refining her products, she went on to launch her bakery line, followed by ice cream last year. Now she plans to expand into the Gulf, starting with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “The pandemic delayed my plans to launch, but I’m pushing it to May 2021 for Dubai and 2022 for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region,” she said. “I think the brand has the opportunity to flourish in the Gulf, because I’ve done pop-ups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the response was great.”

She describes her products as the perfect healthy yet indulgent snacks — made from dates, nuts, coconuts and oats, as well as date molasses, almond flour and coconut sugar, the snacks contain a good balance of healthy fats, fiber and protein, which provide long-term sustained energy release.

“I want to help promote the idea that if you have a sweet tooth, it’s a pleasure and it’s okay,” Bdeir said. “It’s in our culture to eat dates as well, so it’s local goodness. I’ve always loved an almond-stuffed date and I wanted to create something more exciting from the same ingredients.”

Now Bdeir is increasing her range from 16 to 20 snack products in two different serving sizes, adding to her 15 baked goods, which include cakes, donuts and ice cream sandwiches. She hopes this will provide another stepping stone to change in a region where obesity and diabetes have become prevalent.

“You still have people going on unhealthy diets,” she said. “I’m really against the diet culture and pre-calculated meal plans. It can be a starting point for newbies, but you have to reach that place of intuitive eating, where it’s 80 percent healthy and 20 percent indulgence. After that, you just live your life.”


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.