Missing Iraq antiquities haunt experts

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Five years ago this week, looters ransacked the Iraqi National Museum, stealing centuries-old artifacts that celebrated Iraq's role as the cradle of civilization. Some headlines at the time exaggerated the size of the damage, erroneously reporting 170,000 items missing. Investigators later discovered that some important artifacts, including gold jewelry from Nimrud, had been hidden at Iraq's Central Bank since the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Today, investigators say that about 15,000 pieces were either stolen in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 or went unaccounted for in the months and years before the conflict began. About half have been recovered. But the impact of the thefts -- amulets, Assyrian ivories, sculpture heads, ritual vessels and cylinder seals -- is still being felt in art circles and black markets throughout the world.

"The numbers can't tell the whole story," said U.S. Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney who has made the hunt for antiquities his specialty. "These things remind us of our common beginnings."

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