British university forced to return 'looted' Iraq treasure

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One of Britain's leading universities is embroiled in an embarrassing row over hundreds of treasures looted from Iraq.

Found scattered around ancient Mesopotamia, the Aramaic incantation or devil bowls were placed upside down in homes during the sixth to eighth centuries to trap evil spirits. The spells, and information such as the names of the home owners, are not found in any other source. One collection contains the earliest examples of the Bible in Hebrew.

Anther collection is at the centre of a legal row that has divided Britain's academic community. Since the first Gulf War in 1990, Iraq has been a looters' paradise. The United Nations introduced a sanction in 2003 making it illegal to handle artefacts from the country. So when University College London came into possession of 654 bowls, the biggest collection in the world, which it loaned from a private collector, suspicions were raised.

The bowls belong to Martin Schoyen, a Norwegian collector of ancient scripts. There is no suggestion that he looted the bowls, or was aware they may have been looted when he bought them in London from a Jordanian who claimed they had been in his family for generations....

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Howard Lewis Binstock - 10/9/2007

How is it even conceivable that the Danish collector's suspicions were not aroused when making the initial purchase? The fact that they were supposedly owned by a Jordanian individual who claimed that the antiquities had been in his family for generations is a suspicious claim initially. Jordan itself is an artifice carved out of Trans Jordan by Winston Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin - it has not been in existence for the many generations alluded to by the original seller. I suppose one believes what one wants to believe, particularly when it comes to priceless antiques.