Iraq Reclaims 17,000 Looted Artifacts, Its Biggest-Ever RepatriationBreaking News
tags: Iraq, archaeology, antiquities, Hobby Lobby, repatriation
When the Iraqi prime minister’s plane touched down in Baghdad last week after an official visit to the United States, its cargo included 17,000 archaeological artifacts returned by a prominent museum and an Ivy League university in the largest-ever repatriation of looted Iraqi antiquities.
On Tuesday, plywood crates holding the thousands of clay tablets and seals — pieces from Mesopotamia, site of the world’s earliest civilizations — were stacked next to a table displaying a few of the artifacts as the Iraqi Culture Ministry took custody of the cultural treasures.
The repatriation of so many objects rounds out a remarkable chapter in the story of a country so ravaged by decades of conflict and war that its very history was pulled out of the ground by antiquities thieves and sold abroad, ending up on display in other countries’ museums. And it is a victory in a global effort by countries to press Western institutions to return culturally vital artifacts, like the push to repatriate the famed Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.
“This is not just about thousands of tablets coming back to Iraq again — it is about the Iraqi people,” Hassan Nadhem, the Iraqi minister of culture, tourism and antiquities, said in a telephone interview. “It restores not just the tablets, but the confidence of the Iraqi people by enhancing and supporting the Iraqi identity in these difficult times.”
The institution that held about 12,000 of the items was the Museum of the Bible, a four-year-old Washington museum founded and funded by the Christian evangelical family that owns the Hobby Lobby craft store chain. The addition of artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia was intended to provide context for Old Testament events.
Four years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice fined Hobby Lobby $3 million for failing to exercise due diligence in its acquisitions of more than 5,000 artifacts; some of those artifacts were among those returned last week to Iraq. Hobby Lobby agreed as part of the government lawsuit to tighten its acquisition procedures, and the museum found thousands more suspect artifacts after it later initiated a voluntary review of its collection.
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