Court decides that German museum has right to ancient artefact from Iraq

Court decides that German museum has right to ancient artefact from Iraq

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It is sad when common sense doesn’t prevail in simple matters like an ancient artefact that belongs to a country. Well, in this case the object of desire is a 3,000-year-old Assyrian gold tablet. The tablet was excavated about 100 years ago from the Ishtar Temple in Iraq by German archaeologists. The item was then taken to the German museum called Vordeasiatiches and then disappeared.

Traces of the item revealed that Flamenbaum, a survivor from Auschwitz, acquired the tablet by trading with a Russian soldier - suggesting that the tablet was a spoilt of war – and took it to the US.

Sadly, the New York court had just decided that the item should be returned to the ‘rightful’ owner – the German museum, because the US doesn’t recognize the right of conquest. The attorney of Flamenbaum criticized the decision claiming that the whole of the US is a result of conquest. Nobody of course mentioned that initially the relic was stolen from its country, Iraq. But of course the court case wasn’t too concerned with that.

The irony is that if any kind of relic is found today in any western country, it is illegal to take it out of the country as it becomes part of the heritage of the country in which it is found. Yet it seems that if someone does manage to get an artefact out of the country, it is considered perfectly ok to retain the items in a new country, or a previous country it travelled to, rather than return it to the country of origin. Sounds like it is time for some changes to the law!

    Benin Bronzes

    The 'Benin Bronzes' (made of brass and bronze) are a group of sculptures which include elaborately decorated cast plaques, commemorative heads, animal and human figures, items of royal regalia, and personal ornaments. They were created from at least the 16th century onwards in the West African Kingdom of Benin, by specialist guilds working for the royal court of the Oba (king) in Benin City. The Kingdom also supported guilds working in other materials such as ivory, leather, coral and wood, and the term 'Benin Bronzes' is sometimes used to refer to historic objects produced using these other materials.

    Many pieces were commissioned specifically for the ancestral altars of past Obas and Queen Mothers. They were also used in other rituals to honour the ancestors and to validate the accession of a new Oba. A key element of the Benin Bronzes are the plaques which once decorated the Benin Royal Palace and which provide an important historical record of the Kingdom of Benin. This includes dynastic history, as well as social history, and insights into its relationships with neighbouring societies. The Benin Bronzes are preceded by earlier West African cast brass traditions, dating back into the medieval period.

    One element of the history of the Kingdom of Benin represented within the Bronzes is the kingdom's early contacts with Europeans. Trade and diplomatic contacts between Benin and Portugal developed on the West African coast from the 15th century. These early connections included Portuguese and Benin emissaries voyaging between the capitals and courts of Benin and Portugal as these two powers negotiated their new relationship.

    There are around 900 objects from the historic Kingdom of Benin in the British Museum's collection. Over 100 can be seen in a permanent changing display within the Museum's galleries. Objects from Benin are also lent regularly around the world. The British Museum's collections additionally include a range of archival documentation and photographic collections relating to the Benin Bronzes and their collection history.

    Berlin museum seeks return of ancient gold tablet (Update 4)

    Attorney Steven Schlesinger argues that a Holocaust survivor Riven Flamenbaum's family be able to keep an ancient gold tablet that their late father somehow obtained in Germany after World War II, on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, at the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, N.Y. Schlesinger argued that Flamenbaum's estate has a legal claim, whether he bought the relic from a Russian soldier whose government authorized pillaging or simply took it to compensate for losing his family at the Auschwitz concentration camp. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    A Holocaust survivor's family urged New York's highest court Tuesday to let them keep an ancient gold tablet that their late father somehow obtained in Germany after World War II.

    Attorney Steven Schlesinger argued that the estate of Riven Flamenbaum has a legal claim, whether the native of Poland bought the relic from a Russian soldier or simply took it to compensate for losing his family at Auschwitz, the concentration camp where he spent several years.

    "Under the Soviet rules at the time, there was permission to pillage and plunder," Schlesinger said. "My client could have taken it in retribution."

    The tablet was in the collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum, a branch of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, before the war. The family argued that the museum's failure to reclaim the tablet for 60 years was an unreasonable delay, undercutting its claim. Schlesinger said Flamenbaum had been told by Christie's in 1954 that the small tablet was a fake and kept it at home. It's now in a safety deposit box on Long Island.

    Museum attorney Raymond Dowd said the absence of the 3,200-year-old relic was quickly noted by the museum, later reported by scholars and widely known.

    "There's no such thing as a right of pillage," Dowd said. "Reparation has nothing to do with this case."

    A handout photocopy from court records shows the 3,200-year-old gold tablet at the center of a court case between a Holocaust survivor's family and a Berlin museum on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. Attorney Steven Schlesinger said Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 that the estate of Riven Flamenbaum has a legal claim, whether the Polish man bought the relic from a Russian soldier or simply took it to compensate for losing his family at Auschwitz. (AP Photo/New York State Court of Appeals)

    Who gets it is up to New York's Court of Appeals, where the seven judges grilled both lawyers Tuesday. A ruling is expected next month.

    The 9.5-gram (.34-ounce) tablet was excavated a century ago by German archaeologists from the Ishtar Temple in what is now northern Iraq. It went on display in Berlin in 1934, was put in storage as the war began and later disappeared.

    "It could fit in the palm of your hand," said Hannah Flamenbaum. "We played with it as children."

    Her father met her mother, another Holocaust survivor, at a relocation camp after the war. By his accounts he traded cigarettes or a salami for it. The couple came to the U.S., where her father went to work for a Manhattan liquor store and later bought the store, settling in Brooklyn, raising three children and later moving to Long Island, she said.

    "He never tried to sell it. . This was sort of the legacy of his suffering in the camps," she said. "The thought was if we're allowed to retain it, put it on display in one of the museums, whether down here in Battery Park City in Manhattan or even in Israel. Use it as a way to talk about the Holocaust . and my parents' story."

    According to court documents, the tablet dates to 1243 to 1207 B.C., the reign of King Tukulti-Ninurta I of Assyria. Placed in the foundation of the temple of a fertility goddess, its 21 lines call on those who find the temple to honor the king's name.

    Attorney Raymond Dowd argues on behalf of a Berlin museum that an ancient gold tablet that a Holocaust survivor somehow obtained after World War II be returned to the museum, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, at the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, N.Y. Riven Flamenbaum's family is trying to keep the 3,200-year-old relic, arguing the museum forfeited any claim to ownership by waiting 60 years to seek its return. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    The tablet was excavated by German archaeologists from about 1908 to 1914 in what was then the Ottoman Empire, with Germany giving half the found antiquities to Istanbul, Raymond Dowd, the museum's lawyer, said. The modern state of Iraq has declined to claim it, he said.

    In 1945, the Berlin museum's premises were overrun, with many items taken by Russia, others by German troops and some pilfered by people who took shelter in the museum, Dowd said. The museum director was not in a position to say who took it, only that it disappeared.

    One recent estimate put its value at $10 million, Schlesinger said.

    Lower courts in New York were split on the decision, leading to the latest appeal.

    The Christian owners of the giant Hobby Lobby chain are being investigated for illegally importing ancient clay tablets from Iraq. DangApricot

    One of America's most high-profile Christian businesses is under investigation for illegally importing ancient Middle Eastern artefacts, according to the Daily Beast.

    The owners of Hobby Lobby, which won a Supreme Court victory against the government last year when it challenged its right to force businesses to offer certain kinds of contraception under the Obamacare health programme, are to open a new Museum of the Bible in Washington in 2017. They have been amassing a huge collection of artefacts including ancient cuneiform tablets from Iraq.

    The Daily Beast has confirmed that a shipment of between 200 and 300 of these tablets was seized by customs agents in 2011 on suspicion that they were imported illegally. Authorities have not yet decided whether to prosecute.

    According to Museum of the Bible president Cary Summers, "There was a shipment and it had improper paperwork – incomplete paperwork that was attached to it."

    However, the Beast's investigation found that hundreds of hours of interviews had been recorded relative to the case, which would make it far more serious than Summers implied.

    It suggests that the tablets may have been deliberately undervalued to allow them to be brought into the country in a process known as "informal entry", for items valued under $2,500, rather than the formal entry process in which items are closely scrutinised. It says it has been told that the tablets were described on their FedEx shipping label as samples of "hand-crafted clay tiles" and valued at $300 this "vastly underestimates their true worth, and, just as important, obscures their identification as the cultural heritage of Iraq", it says.

    Steve Green, the CEO of Hobby Lobby, said that it was possible that his family might have some illegally-acquired antiquities but denied deliberately doing anything wrong.

    The family is extremely wealthy and any financial penalty they face is unlikely to trouble them. However, Hobby Lobby has laid great stress on its Christian principles and a criminal conviction would be highly embarrassing.


    War and looting Edit

    Ancient world Edit

    War and the subsequent looting of defeated peoples has been common practice since ancient times. The stele of King Naram-Sin of Akkad, which is now displayed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is one of the earliest works of art known to have been looted in war. The stele commemorating Naram-Sin's victory in a battle against the Lullubi people in 2250 BCE was taken as war plunder about a thousand years later by the Elamites who relocated it to their capital in Susa, Iran. There, it was uncovered in 1898 by French archaeologists. [1]

    The Palladion was the earliest and perhaps the most important stolen statue in western literature. [2] The small carved wooden statue of an armed Athena served as Troy's protective talisman, which is said to have been stolen by two Greeks who secretly smuggled the statue out of the Temple of Athena. It was widely believed in antiquity that the conquest of Troy was only possible because the city had lost its protective talisman. This myth illustrates the sacramental significance of statuary in Ancient Greece as divine manifestations of the gods that symbolized power and were often believed to possess supernatural abilities. The sacred nature of the statues is further illustrated in the supposed suffering of the victorious Greeks afterward, including Odysseus, who was the mastermind behind the robbery. [2]

    According to Roman myth, Rome was founded by Romulus, the first victor to dedicate spoils taken from an enemy ruler to the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius. In Rome's many subsequent wars, blood-stained armor and weaponry were gathered and placed in temples as a symbol of respect toward the enemies' deities and as a way to win their patronage. [3] As Roman power spread throughout Italy where Greek cities once reigned, Greek art was looted and ostentatiously displayed in Rome as a triumphal symbol of foreign territories brought under Roman rule. [3] However, the triumphal procession of Marcus Claudius Marcellus after the fall of Syracuse in 211 is believed to have set a standard of reverence to conquered sanctuaries as it engendered disapproval by critics and a negative social reaction. [4]

    According to Pliny the Elder, the Emperor Augustus was sufficiently embarrassed by the history of Roman plunder of Greek art to return some pieces to their original homes. [5]

    20th and 21st centuries Edit

    One of the most infamous cases of esurient art plundering in wartime was the Nazi appropriation of art from both public and private holdings throughout Europe and Russia. The looting began before World War II with illegal seizures as part of a systematic persecution of Jews, which was included as a part of Nazi crimes during the Nuremberg Trials. [6] During World War II, Germany plundered 427 museums in the Soviet Union and ravaged or destroyed 1,670 Russian Orthodox churches, 237 Catholic churches and 532 synagogues. [7]

    A well-known recent case of wartime looting was the plundering of ancient artifacts from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad at the outbreak of the war in 2003. Although this was not a case in which the victors plundered art from their defeated enemy, it was result of the unstable and chaotic conditions of war that allowed looting to happen and which some [ who? ] would argue was the fault of the invading US forces.

    Archaeologists and scholars criticized the US military for not taking the measures to secure the museum, a repository for a myriad of valuable ancient artifacts from the ancient Mesopotamian civilization. [8] In the several months leading up to the war, scholars, art directors, and collector met with the Pentagon to ensure that the US government would protect Iraq's important archaeological heritage, with the National Museum in Baghdad being at the top of the list of concerns. [9] Between April 8, when the museum was vacated and April 12, when some of the staff returned, an estimated 15,000 items and an additional 5,000 cylinder seals were stolen. [10] Moreover, the National Library was plundered of thousands of cuneiform tablets and the building was set on fire with half a million books inside fortunately, many of the manuscripts and books were preserved. [9] A US task force was able to retrieve about half of the stolen artifacts by organizing and dispatching an inventory of missing objects and by declaring that there would be no punishment for anyone returning an item. [10] In addition to the vulnerability of art and historical institutions during the Iraq war, Iraq's rich archaeological sites and areas of excavated land (Iraq is presumed to possess vast undiscovered treasures) have fallen victim to widespread looting. [11] Hordes of looters disinterred enormous craters around Iraq's archaeological sites, sometimes using bulldozers. [12] It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 archaeological sites in Iraq have been despoiled. [11]

    Modern imperialism and looting Edit

    The scale of plundering during Napoleon's French Empire was unprecedented in modern history with the only comparable looting expeditions taking place in ancient Roman history. [13] In fact, the French revolutionaries justified the large-scale and systematic looting of Italy in 1796 by viewing themselves as the political successors of Rome, in the same way that ancient Romans saw themselves as the heirs of Greek civilization. [14] They also supported their actions with the opinion that their sophisticated artistic taste would allow them to appreciate the plundered art. [15] Napoleon's soldiers crudely dismantled the art by tearing paintings out of their frames hung in churches and sometimes causing damage during the shipping process. Napoleon's soldiers appropriated private collections and even the papal collection. [16] Of the most famous artworks plundered included the Bronze Horses of Saint Mark in Venice and the Laocoön and His Sons in Rome (both since returned), with the later being considered the most impressive sculpture from antiquity at the time.

    The Laocoön had a particular meaning for the French because it was associated with a myth in connection to the founding of Rome. [17] When the art was brought into Paris, the pieces arrived in the fashion of a triumphal procession modeled after the common practice of ancient Romans. [16]

    Napoleon's extensive plunder of Italy was criticized by such French artists as Antoine-Chrysostôme Quatremère de Quincy (1755–1849), who circulated a petition that gathered the signatures of fifty other artists. [18] With the founding of the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1793, Napoleon's aim was to establish an encyclopedic exhibition of art history, which later both Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler would attempt to emulate in their respective countries. [14]

    Napoleon continued his art conquests in 1798 when he invaded Egypt in an attempt to safeguard French trade interests and to undermine Britain's access to India via Egypt. His expedition in Egypt is noted for the 167 "savants" he took with him including scientists and other specialists equipped with tools for recording, surveying and documenting ancient and modern Egypt and its natural history. [19] Among other things, the expedition discoveries included the Rosetta Stone and the Valley of the Kings near Thebes. The French military campaign was short-lived and unsuccessful and the majority of the collected artifacts (including the Rosetta Stone) were seized by British troops, ending up in the British Museum. Nonetheless, the information gathered by the French expedition was soon after published in the several volumes of Description de l'Égypte, which included 837 copperplate engravings and over 3,000 drawings. In contrast to the disapproving public reaction to the looting of Italian works of art, the appropriation of Egyptian art saw widespread interest and fascination throughout Europe, inciting a phenomenon which came to be called "Egyptomania". [20]

    Demands for restitution Edit

    A precedent for art repatriation was set in Roman antiquity when Cicero prosecuted Verres, a senate member and illegal appropriator of art. Cicero's speech influenced Enlightenment European thought and had an indirect impact on the modern debate about art repatriation. [21] Cicero's argument uses military episodes of plunder as "case law" and expresses certain standards when it comes to appropriating cultural property of another people. [22] Cicero makes a distinction between public and private uses of art and what is appropriate for each and he also asserts that the primary purpose of art is religious expression and veneration. He also sets standards for the responsibilities of imperial administration abroad to the code of ethics surrounding the collection of art from defeated Greece and Rome in wartime. Later, both Napoleon and Lord Elgin would be likened to Verres in condemnations of their plundering of art. [23]

    Art was repatriated for the first time in modern history when Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington returned to Italy art that had been plundered by Napoleon, after his and Marshal Blücher's armies defeated the French at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. [20] This decision contrasted sharply to a long-held tradition to the effect that "to the victors go the spoils." [20] This is remarkable considering that in the battle of Waterloo alone, the financial and human costs were colossal the decision to not only refrain from plundering France but to repatriate France's prior seizures from the Netherlands, Italy, Prussia, and Spain, was extraordinary. [24] Moreover, the British paid for the restitution of the papal collection to Rome because the Pope could not finance the shipping himself. [25] When British troops began packing up looted art from the Louvre, there was a public outcry in France. Crowds reportedly tried to prevent the taking of the Horses of Saint Mark and there were throngs of weeping ladies outside the Louvre Museum. [26] Despite the unprecedented nature of this repatriation effort, there are recent estimations that only about 55 percent of what was taken was actually repatriated: the Louvre Director at the time, Vivant Denon, had sent out many important works to other parts of France before the British could take them. [27] Wellington viewed himself as representing all of Europe's nations and he believed that the moral decision would be to restore the art in its apparently proper context. [28] In a letter to Lord Castlereagh he wrote:

    The Allies then, having the contents of the museum justly in their power, could not do otherwise than restore them to the countries from which, contrary to the practice of civilized warfare, they had been torn during the disastrous period of the French revolution and the tyranny of Bonaparte. . Not only, then, would it, in my opinion, be unjust in the Sovereigns to gratify the people of France on this subject, at the expense of their own people, but the sacrifice they would make would be impolitic, as it would deprive them of the opportunity of giving the people of France a great moral lesson.

    Wellington also forbade pilfering among his troops as he believed that it led to the lack of discipline and distraction from military duty. He also held the view that winning support from local inhabitants was an important break from Napoleon's practices. [29]

    The great public interest in art repatriation helped fuel the expansion of public museums in Europe and launched museum-funded archaeological explorations. The concept of art and cultural repatriation gained momentum through the latter decades of the twentieth century and began to show fruition by the end of the century when key works were ceded back to claimants.

    National government laws Edit

    United States Edit

    In 1863 US President Abraham Lincoln summoned Francis Lieber, a German-American jurist and political philosopher, to write a legal code to regulate Union soldiers' behavior toward Confederation prisoners, noncombatants, spies and property. The resulting General Orders No.100 or the Lieber Code, legally recognized cultural property as a protected category in war. [30] The Lieber Code had far-reaching results as it became the basis for the Hague Convention of 1907 and 1954 and has led to Standing Rules of Engagement (ROE) for US troops today. [31] A portion of the ROE clauses instruct US troops not to attack "schools, museums, national monuments, and any other historical or cultural sites unless they are being used for a military purpose and pose a threat". [31]

    In 2004 the US passed the Bill HR1047 for the Emergency Protection for Iraq Cultural Antiquities Act, which allows the President authority to impose emergency import restrictions by Section 204 of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCIPA). [32] In 2003, Britain and Switzerland put into effect statutory prohibitions against illegally exported Iraqi artifacts. In the UK, the Dealing in Cultural Objects Bill was established in 2003 that prohibited the handling of illegal cultural objects.

    UK Edit

    Repatriation in the UK has been highly debated in recent years, however there is still a lack of formal legislation that expressly outlines repatriation procedures. [33] As a result, guidance on repatriation stems from museum authority and government guidelines such as the Museum Ethnographers' Group (1994). This means that museum policies on repatriation can vary depending on the attitude of the institution, whether they are in favour of repatriation or not will modify their policies and in turn modify the success rates of repatriation claims. [34]

    The repatriation of human remains is governed by the Human Tissue Act 2004 . However, the Act itself does not create guidelines on the process of repatriation, it merely states it is legally possible for museums to do so. [33] This again highlights the fact that successful repatriation claims in the UK are dependant on museum policy. The British Museum's policy on the restitution of human remains can be found here.

    International conventions Edit

    The Hague Convention of 1907 aimed to forbid pillaging and sought to make wartime plunder the subject of legal proceedings, although in practice the defeated countries did not gain any leverage in their demands for repatriation. [7] The Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict took place in the wake of widespread destruction of cultural heritage in World War II is the first international treaty of a worldwide vocation focusing exclusively on the protection of cultural heritage in the event of armed conflict.

    The UNIDROIT (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) Convention on Stolen or Illicitly Exported Cultural Objects of 1995 called for the return of illegally exported cultural objects [35]

    UNESCO Edit

    The 1970 UNESCO Convention against Illicit Export under the Act to implement the Convention (the Cultural Property Implementation Act) allowed for stolen objects to be seized if there were documentation of it in a museum or institution of a state party and the following agreement in 1972 promoted world cultural and natural heritage [36]

    The 1978 UNESCO Convention strengthened existing provisions the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of illicit Appropriation was established. It consists of 22 members elected by the General Conference of UNESCO to facilitate bilateral negotiations for the restitution of "any cultural property which has a fundamental significance from the point of view of the spiritual values and cultural heritage of the people of a Member State or Associate Member of UNESCO and which has been lost as a result of colonial or foreign occupation or as a result of illicit appropriation". [37] It was also created to "encourage the necessary research and studies for the establishment of coherent programmes for the constitution of representative collections in countries whose cultural heritage has been dispersed". [37]

    In response to the Iraqi National Museum looting, UNESCO Director-General, Kōichirō Matsuura convened a meeting in Paris on April 17, 2003 in order to assess the situation and coordinate international networks in order to recover the cultural heritage of Iraq. On July 8, 2003, Interpol and UNESCO signed an amendment to their 1999 Cooperation Agreement in the effort to recover looted Iraqi artifacts. [38]

    Colonialism and identity Edit

    From early on, the field of archaeology was deeply involved in political endeavors and in the construction of national identities. This early relationship can be seen during the Renaissance and the proto-Italian reactions against the High Gothic movement, but the relationship became stronger during 19th century Europe when archaeology became institutionalized as a field of study furnished by artifacts acquired during the rise of European colonialism led by the British and French. [39] Colonialism and the field of archaeology mutually supported one another as the need to acquire knowledge of ancient artifacts justified further colonial dominance.

    As further justification for colonial rule, the archaeological discoveries also shaped the way European colonialists identified with the artifacts and the ancient people who made them. In the case of Egypt, colonial Europe's mission was to bring the glory and magnificence of ancient Egypt closer to Europe and incorporate it into knowledge of world history, or better yet, use European history to place ancient Egypt in a new spotlight. [40] With the archaeological discoveries, ancient Egypt was adopted into the Western historical narrative and came to take on a significance that had up until that time been reserved for ancient Greek and Roman civilization. [41] The French revolutionaries justified the large-scale and systematic looting of Italy in 1796 by viewing themselves as the political successors of Rome, in the same way that ancient Romans saw themselves as the heirs of Greek civilization [42] by the same token, the appropriation of ancient Egyptian history as European history further legitimated Western colonial rule over Egypt. But while ancient Egypt became patrimony of the West, modern Egypt remained a part of the Muslim world. [41] The writings of European archaeologists and tourists illustrate the impression that modern Egyptians were uncivilized, savage, and the antithesis of the splendor of ancient Egypt. [41]

    Museums furnished by colonial looting have largely shaped the way a nation imagines its dominion, the nature of the human beings under its power, the geography of the land, and the legitimacy of its ancestors, working to suggest a process of political inheriting. [43] It is necessary to understand the paradoxical way in which the objects on display at museums are tangible reminders of the power held by those who gaze at them. [44] Eliot Colla describes the structure of the Egyptian sculpture room in the British Museum as an assemblage that "form[s] an abstract image of the globe with London at the center". [45] The British Museum, as Colla describes, presents a lesson of human development and progress: "the forward march of human civilization from its classical origins in Greece and Rome, through Renaissance Italy, to modern-day London". [45]

    The restoration of monuments was often made in colonial states to make natives feel as if in their current state, they were no longer capable of greatness. [46] Furthermore, sometimes colonial rulers argued that the ancestors of the colonized people did not make the artifacts. [46] Some scholars also argue that European colonialists used monumental archaeology and tourism to appear as the guardian of the colonized, reinforcing unconscious and undetectable ownership. [46] Colonial rulers used peoples, religions, languages, artifacts, and monuments as source for reinforcing European nationalism, which was adopted and easily inherited from the colonial states. [46]

    Nationalism and identity Edit

    As a direct reaction and resistance to colonial oppression, archaeology was also used for the purpose of legitimating the existence of an independent nation-state. [47] For example, Egyptian Nationalists utilized its ancient history to invent the political and expressive culture of "Pharaonism" as a response to Europe's "Egyptomania". [48]

    Some argue that in colonized states, nationalist archaeology was used to resist colonialism and racism under the guise of evolution. [49] While it is true that both colonialist and nationalist discourse use the artifact to form mechanisms to sustain their contending political agendas, there is a danger in viewing them interchangeably since the latter was a reaction and form of resistance to the former. On the other hand, it is important to realize that in the process of emulating the mechanisms of colonial discourse, the nationalist discourse produced new forms of power. In the case of the Egyptian nationalist movement, the new form of power and meaning that surrounded the artifact furthered the Egyptian independence cause but continued to oppress the rural Egyptian population. [48]

    Some scholars [ who? ] argue that archaeology can be a positive source of pride in cultural traditions, but can also be abused to justify cultural or racial superiority as the Nazis argued that Germanic people of Northern Europe was a distinct race and cradle of Western civilization that was superior to the Jewish race. [ citation needed ] . In other cases, archaeology allows rulers to justify the domination of neighboring peoples as Saddam Hussein used Mesopotamia's magnificent past to justify his invasion of Kuwait in 1990. [50]

    Some scholars employ the idea that identity is fluid and constructed, especially national identity of modern nation-states, to argue that the post-colonial countries have no real claims to the artifacts plundered from their borders since their cultural connections to the artifacts are indirect and equivocal. [51] This argument asserts that artifacts should be viewed as universal cultural property and should not be divided among artificially created nation-states. Moreover, that encyclopedic museums are a testament to diversity, tolerance and the appreciation of many cultures. [52] Other scholars would argue that this reasoning is a continuation of colonialist discourse attempting to appropriate the ancient art of colonized states and incorporate it into the narrative of Western history. [ citation needed ]

    Cultural Survival and Identity Edit

    In settler-colonial contexts, many Indigenous people that have experienced cultural domination by colonial powers have begun to request the repatriation of objects that are already within the same borders. Objects of Indigenous cultural heritage, such as ceremonial objects, artistic objects, etc., have ended up in the hands of publicly and privately held collections which were often given up under economic duress, taken during assimilationist programs or simply stolen. [53] The objects are often significant to the Indigenous ontologies possessing animacy and kinship ties. Objects such as particular instruments used in unique musical traditions, textiles used in spiritual practices or religious carvings have cult significance are connected to the revival of traditional practices. This means that the repatriation of these objects is connected to the cultural survival of Indigenous people historically oppressed by colonialism. [54]

    Colonial narratives surrounding "discovery" of the new world have historically resulted in Indigenous people's claim to cultural heritage being rejected. Instead, private and public holders have worked towards displaying these objects in museums as a part of colonial national history. Museums often argue that if objects were to be repatriated they would be seldom seen and not properly taken care of. [55] International agreements such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention against Illicit Export under the Act to implement the Convention (the Cultural Property Implementation Act) often do not regard Indigenous repatriation claims. Instead, these conventions focus on returning national cultural heritage to states. [54]

    Since the 1980s, decolonization efforts have resulted in more museums attempting to work with local Indigenous groups to secure a working relationship and the repatriation of their cultural heritage. [56] This has resulted in local and international legislation such as NAGPRA and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects which take Indigenous perspectives into consideration in the repatriation process. Notably, Article 12 of UNDRIP states:

    Indigenous peoples have the right to manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies the right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites the right to the use and control of their ceremonial objects and the right to the repatriation of their human remains. States shall seek to enable the access and/or repatriation of ceremonial objects and human remains in their possession through fair, transparent and effective mechanisms developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples concerned. [57]

    The process of repatriation has often been fraught with issues though, resulting in the loss or improper repatriation of cultural heritage. The debate between public interest, Indigenous claims and the wrongs of colonialism is the central tension around the repatriation of Indigenous cultural heritage. [53]

    Saving Iraq’s Treasures

    “Oh your city! Oh your house! Oh your people!” wrote a scribe of ancient Sumer, portraying a dark time in the land that would become Iraq. That 4,000-year-old lament sounded all too contemporary in April as Baghdad mobs stormed Iraq’s National Museum, broke heads off ancient statues, ransacked files and made off with an unknown number of priceless artifacts. Despite pleas from Iraqi curators, U.S. forces had no orders to intervene. “Turmoil descended upon the land,” mourned the Sumerian scribe. “The statues that were in the treasury were cut down . . . there were corpses floating in the Euphrates brigands roamed the roads.”

    For eight decades, archaeologists had deposited thousands of artifacts and manuscripts at the museum, documenting 10,000 years of civilization that gave the world writing, mathematics and a host of technologies—from paved roads and the wheels that ran on them to astronomical observatories. Despite 20 years of war, repression and economic sanctions in Iraq, archaeologists have continued to work the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was in such fabled cities as Uruk, Ashur, Babylon, Hatra and Samarra that complex agriculture, literacy and organized international trade originated. “It is a most remarkable place,” says archaeologist John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art. “The people there put together all the pieces of civilization. And it looks like us.”

    In March, fearing that the museum might be damaged by Coalition bombing, curators moved many of its 170,000 objects to basement storerooms and vaults. But within hours of the arrival of U.S. troops, looters and skilled thieves overwhelmed the few Iraqi guards at the museum and headed for the storerooms. Since then, several important objects have been brought back to the museum thanks to radio broadcasts urging their return, but Iraq’s newly opened borders will make it easy for thieves to feed artifacts to the international antiquities market. Among the most-prized missing objects: the Warka Vase, a sacred limestone piece from Uruk a marble head of Poseidon and an Assyrian ivory carving. Scholars initially compared the losses to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. On April 29, Donny George, director of research for the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities, called the looting “the crime of the century. And it’s not just a loss for the Iraqi people, but a loss for all mankind.”

    In late April, amid reports that the losses may not be as numerous as first feared, archaeologists, conservation experts and museum representatives—working with Interpol, the FBI and Unesco—announced a plan to embargo sales of Iraqi cultural artifacts and encourage their return, and to help Iraq inventory losses, locate the stolen objects and repair damaged ones. “We have to do a lot of things simultaneously,” said Unesco Director-General Koichiro Matsuura. “We have to make these efforts.”

    CITY OF THE WRITTEN WORD 4900 B.C. - A.D. 300

    Uruk was one of humanity’s first great urban centers—the largest city in Sumer—five millennia ago. It is mentioned in the Bible as Erech, and scholars consider it the place where writing and literacy first flourished. Barges and boats plied human-made canals bordered by boldly decorated palaces, limestone temples and luxuriant gardens, bringing grain and wool from surrounding farmlands, stone from quarries in the north and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of people—priests, merchants, scribes, craftsmen, laborers—crowded into the mudbrick homes of this city built on the EuphratesRiver in southeastern Iraq.

    When Uruk’s first inhabitants arrived nearly 7,000 years ago, the sluggish Euphrates emptied its silt into a vast marsh—part of a series of marshes that extended to the Persian Gulf shore. The people constructed mud-and-reed huts, nearly identical to those built by today’s Marsh Arabs. The huts decayed and new ones were built on the sites of the old, a layering that went on more than 1,500 years and left behind deposits some 550 feet thick.

    Two millennia later, Uruk was the most impressive city of Sumer, the southern part of the land known as Mesopotamia. Atemple complex celebrated the people’s deities—particularly the life-giving goddess of love, Inana. Craftsmen churned out statuary and silver incense holders. Trade with communities on the Euphrates and the Gulf boomed.

    To keep track of all the goods and services, merchants and priests needed a way to record contracts. The old, cumbersome method was to seal clay figures—representing goats, barley and so on—within round clay “envelopes.” Around 3200 B.C., using the ubiquitous marsh reeds and clay tablets, a new class of accountant-scribes began improvising a set of symbols that we now call cuneiform, for its wedge-shaped marks. Only a select few scribes were taught the complicated system, which remained the official form of written communication in Mesopotamia for nearly 3,000 years, when the alphabet of Aramaic and other languages replaced it.

    What began as a handy accounting method eventually spawned literature. The first great literary epic, written about 4,500 years ago on clay tablets that are now in the BritishMuseum in London, tells of King Gilgamesh and his fruitless journey to find immortality.

    Literacy and location no doubt gave Uruk its power over its rival Sumerian cities. “Climb upon the wall of Uruk,” exclaims the narrator of the Gilgamesh epic. “Walk along it, I say regard the foundation terrace and examine the masonry is it not burnt brick and good?” It was good—good enough to last until German excavators uncovered that very wall a century ago.

    Uruk is not an easy place for archaeologists. The Euphrates long ago abandoned this site, moving its sinuous bed to the west. All around is flat plain broken only by the occasional dusty village or crumbling homestead. Midday summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, then plunge at night to near freezing. Uruk’s ancient ruins, left to crumble for 1,700 years, now comprise nearly two square miles of mounds, the result of 200 generations building new streets, houses, temples and palaces on top of the old.

    In this arid place, it is hard to imagine canals and gardens, especially in a city built of easily dissolved mud brick. “Archaeologists didn’t think such structures were possible too much water would destroy them,” says Margarete van Ess of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. But she and her team, who have been digging at Uruk for the past three years, are now convinced that the city’s scribes weren’t just civic boosters. Using magnetometers to trace disturbances in the magnetic field underground, van Ess and colleagues have mapped what they believe are the city’s ancient canals. Roads, canals and buildings have separate, distinct magnetic signatures, allowing van Ess to build a picture of Uruk. “You can visualize it as a garden city,” she says. (The war suspended van Ess’ work she hopes Uruk’s remote location has protected it.)

    Uruk’s power waned in the latter part of the third millennium B.C. the city fell prey to invaders from the north—Akkadians, Gudeans and Elamites. “They seized your wharf and your borders,” laments one ancient writer. “Shouts rang out, screams reverberated. . . . Battering rams and shields were set up, they rent its walls.” Asuccession of rulers rebuilt the city, but by A.D. 300 it was gone.


    The siege of ashur in 614 B.C. was long and bloody. The invading Medes forced the city gates, then fought the city’s guards hand to hand through the narrow, crooked streets until they reached the sacred district high on a bluff above the TigrisRiver. Soon the pyramid-like ziggurats, temples and palaces of the Assyrian Empire’s spiritual center were in flames.

    It was a dramatic end to the 2,000-year-old metropolis that once rivaled Athens and Rome in grandeur and importance. Ashur, on the west bank of the Tigris in northern Iraq, was settled 4,500 years ago as a modest trading town run by an entrepreneurial people. They worshiped a pantheon of gods including one whose name they took for their city. These early Assyrians conducted a thriving trade that reached as far as today’s Turkey. Often dominated by foreign rulers, they were typically more interested in profits than politics. That changed about 800 B.C., when the city’s powerful families agitated for military action to protect trade routes threatened by warring neighbor states. With their superior technology and organization—including chariots, iron swords and a permanent army—the Assyrians took back the routes and got their first taste of imperial might.

    Emboldened, a string of powerful rulers gobbled up smaller and weaker states, destroying the fortified town of Lachish in Judea after a long siege in 701 B.C., threatening tribes on the Iranian plateau and eventually overwhelming the Nubian masters of Egypt. By the seventh century B.C., the resulting Assyrian Empire encompassed a huge and varied population, the first great multicultural kingdom in history. Though its rulers were often rapacious, the empire was also characterized by peaceful trade, religious tolerance, canny diplomacy and forceful propaganda.

    By 863 B.C., Assyria’s capital moved from nearby Nimrud to Nineveh, but kings were still enthroned and buried at Ashur. The old city was a maze of twisting streets with elegant homes hidden behind high windowless walls. Smaller houses crowded up against temples, just as they do against mosques in old Iraqi cities today. There was a sewage system, but “the usual garbage—broken jars or bits of food—was thrown on the streets,” says Peter Miglus, an archaeologist at the University of Heidelberg who has excavated sites at Ashur over the past three years. Ships and barges loaded with grain, wood, stone, leather and wine, brought from all over the empire, crowded the massive quays on the TigrisRiver.

    By 700 B.C., the city boasted 34 major temples. The sacred district of Ashur was at the northeast tip, on a spur of rock extending into the Tigris. Here were the ancient sanctuaries of the goddess Inana—the same goddess revered in Uruk—and of the god Ashur. Three ziggurats rose into the sky far above the fast-moving river below. Seen from the Tigris, the city was a dazzling sight. It seemed impregnable, too, located on a high bluff, with two and a half miles of stout walls. Armed guards, wearing the long coiffed beards favored by Assyrian men, were stationed at the city gates.Yet in 614 B.C., the Medes—a people from today’s Iran—attacked the Assyrian Empire and laid waste to fortified Ashur. Many scholars have surmised that the Medes launched a surprise attack on the city when the fierce Assyrian military was fighting elsewhere.

    But Miglus and his team, along with Iraqi and other Western researchers, have put together an alternative description of Ashur’s final days. They have found an unfinished tunnel most likely built by the Medes to penetrate the city’s formidable defense that the Medes had time to build a tunnel suggests the siege was quite long. Based on his excavations, Miglus paints a stark picture of Ashur’s preparations for that siege and its terrifying end. He believes the city’s inhabitants converted the vast palace cellars into granaries, as if to wait out the usurpers, and that Ashur’s final hours were a chaos of street barricades, beheaded corpses and burned buildings.

    Unfortunately, the ancient settlement is once again under siege. Two years ago, Saddam Hussein’s government began work on a dam that would flood much of Ashur and all of the valley below, which contains more than 60 important Assyrian sites, most of which have never been surveyed or excavated. The news devastated Miglus, who worked more than ten years to gain permission to dig at Ashur. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. If the dam is completed, the vast lake would lap at Miglus’ research station—now high on a bluff above the Tigris—and Ashur would turn into a few muddy islands poking up from the reservoir. Statuary, libraries of cuneiform tablets, and hundreds of unexcavated buildings will melt into mud if the plan goes forward.

    Even so, the huge dam, if completed in 2006 as scheduled, would bring water and electricity to Baghdad. Water in the Tigris is low, the result of a series of Turkish dams upstream that siphon it off before it can reach Iraq. And in this poor region, the construction of the dam would provide hundreds of much-needed jobs.

    Before the war, Iraqi officials indicated they would build a cofferdam that would surround the entire site and protect it from the rising water, but the costs for such a project would be enormous. When a Unesco team visited Iraq last November, work on the dam was well under way, with no plans for a protective structure. Donny George says construction has stopped whether it will begin again no one can say. If completed, the dam’s rising waters will wipe out all traces of ancient Assyria’s heart.

    GATE OF THE GODS 1800 B.C. - A.D. 75

    Few words evoke as many images of ancient decadence, glory and prophetic doom as does “Babylon.” Yet the actual place󈠂 miles south of Baghdad—is flat, hot, deserted and dusty. Next to a crumbling small-scale reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, its once-vivid blue tiles faded and its parade of animal reliefs scarred and broken, a forlorn gift shop offers miniature plastic statues of the famous Lion of Babylon and T-shirts bearing faux cuneiform. The real Ishtar Gate, built by Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 B.C., was hauled off to Berlin by archaeologists a century ago. Visitors must visualize among the low mounds of rubble a vast and cosmopolitan city, holy as Mecca, wealthy as Zurich, as magnificently planned as Washington. The Tower of Babel is now a swampy pit. Looming above the sad heaps of brick is an imperious palace built in 1987 by Saddam Hussein, who often expressed a kinship with Nebuchadnezzar.

    By that king’s time (604-562 B.C.), Babylon already had a complex history stretching 1,150 years to King Hammurabi, who posted a legal code with 282 laws around 1750 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar inherited a city free of Assyrian domination—Nineveh and Ashur lay in ruins to the north—and not as yet threatened by the growing powers of Persia on the Iranian plateau to the east. Babylon’s rule stretched from the foot of that plateau across Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean Sea.

    “Babylon was a city where living was beautiful, so the cuneiform tablets tell us,” says Giovanni Bergamini, an archaeologist at Italy’s University of Turin who excavated the site before the first Gulf War. “It was a free city for refugees, a holy city, a kind of Jerusalem.” The word “Babylon” itself means “gate of the gods.” Scores of temples served by a caste of priests catered to the Mesopotamian deities and their followers. Stone slabs paved wide streets high gates and walls defined the 1.6-square-mile rectangle of the city and a massive bridge spanned the Euphrates, which flowed through the heart of the city.

    The most elaborate temple, in the city center, was dedicated to Marduk, the patron god of Babylon, whose name was too holy to speak. Nearby, rising 300 feet, was the sevenstepped and brightly painted ziggurat called Etemenanki—“the foundation of heaven and earth”—which the Jews dubbed the Tower of Babel. During the spring festival—a sort of Mardi Gras and Holy Week rolled into one—the king lay aside his crown and prostrated himself before Marduk’s statue. Then the high priest slapped the king to expunge his sins. Pilgrims thronged the streets, and statues of gods brought by people from all over Mesopotamia were carried by singing crowds, taken to the river and placed on boats, then ceremoniously carried in chariots to a special temple in the north part of the city.

    Amid all this celebration was the unrelenting clatter of business. Bergamini has excavated areas that may have served as banks. “This was a trading city,” he says. “Caravans and ships brought cargoes of imported woods, silver, gold, bronze, ivory, frankincense, marble, wine and grains, vegetables and fruits of all kinds.”

    Holy and secular buildings alike were decorated in bricks brightly glazed in bold blues, reds and greens. Whimsical animal figures—strutting long-necked dragons and elegant bulls—adorned temples, gates and palaces. These animals “are symbolic and magical,” says the Italian archaeologist, and contrast starkly with the severe and warlike stone friezes that lined the walls of Assyrian palaces.

    Learning was highly prized, and astronomy and mathematics were especially esteemed. “There was an ideology of freedom, of justice, of peace,” Bergamini says. As the prophet Daniel notes, Babylon boasted a concentration of sages supported by the palace and temples. But ideology did not always match reality. The Babylonian army sacked Jerusalem (among many cities), blinded a rebellious Jewish prince, enslaved countless peoples and fought viciously along Babylonia’s shifting borders. Yet foreigners such as Daniel (who impressed the imperial court with his prophetic interpretations of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams) rose to high levels in the government, despite their original status as captives.

    After Nebuchadnezzar’s death in 562 B.C., a seven-year struggle for power commenced. Nabonidus gained control, but the new king became devoted to the moon god Sin—an unpopular deity among local conservatives—and retreated to a distant desert town. Meanwhile, Persia grew stronger and more covetous of its neighbor.

    According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Persian army led by Cyrus surprised Babylon’s oblivious inhabitants. Even as the enemy breached the city’s outer defenses, Herodotus wrote, the people “engaged in a festival, continued dancing and reveling.” The Persian king entered Babylon in triumph, forbade looting and freed the Jews. He then went on to greater conquests as far away as Greece, and Persian and Greek foreigners (Alexander the Great died there) oversaw the slow decay of Babylon. Around A.D. 75, the last generation of priests recorded astronomical observations in cuneiform, and the ruined city was abandoned.

    The most recent attempt to raise Babylon took place in 1987 when, under Saddam Hussein’s orders, parts of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace were rebuilt. But the salty soil and rising water table have played havoc with the new walls, causing them to crack and twist the fragile, ancient foundations below. Bergamini says he and other archaeologists could not prevent this folly. “It’s complete nonsense—the right thing is to destroy the [new] walls.” It won’t be hard to distinguish old from new: each new brick is stamped with Saddam’s name. And Saddam is not the only one to have put his mark on this place: in April, at least one U.S. tank rolled over some of the ancient mounds on its way to Baghdad.

    CITY OF OUR LORD AND LADY 400 B.C. - A.D. 300

    As babylon crumbled back into dust, a lesserknown city 225 miles northwest was breaking with the ancient religious traditions of Mesopotamia. On a bleak plain west of the Euphrates, Hatra began as a watering hole with perhaps a small temple. At its height in the first and second centuries A.D., Hatra encompassed 750 acres, an elegant city clustered around a sacred core of three large temples, all protected by a city wall still visible today.

    This is a strangely constructed place. With its stone columns, graceful arches and classical statues, it resembles a remarkably preserved Roman city. But a closer look reveals that the arches lead to open pavilions reminiscent of the large tents favored by Parthian rulers who came from Persia in A.D. 100. Though Hatra sat astride the two great empires of the day—Roman and Parthian—the old Mesopotamian styles are still evident. One temple has an off-center entrance, designed so commoners outside could not glimpse the sacred interior, which is typical also of temples in Uruk, Ashur and Babylon. The inscriptions in Aramaic—the language of the region as well as of Christ—indicate the city was ruled by the “King of the Arabs,” a reference to nomadic desert tribes who were spreading north and settling down.

    This unusual mix gives Hatra a cosmopolitan air—Rome’s artistic flair meets Arab nomads and Persian style with a hint of Babylonia. “It’s very complex,” says Roberta Venco Ricciardi, an archaeologist at the University of Turin in Italy who dug at Hatra in the 1980s and the late 󈨞s. There is little about Hatra in historical records, but Ricciardi and Iraqi archaeologists are providing a fuller picture. In one patrician home she excavated, for example, “there were paintings everywhere,” she says. The walls were covered with hunting scenes of gazelles and wild boars, in vibrant reds, yellows and blacks. Those paintings, she adds, were stored at the site, rather than in Baghdad, so they might still be safe.

    “I believe this was a very important religious center,” Ricciardi says. “There was trade, but that was not the main reason for Hatra’s success.” Scholars are stumped as to what the pilgrims worshiped. Inscriptions offer only hints: the pantheon honored “Our Lord, Our Lady and the Son of our Lords.” Ricciardi believes “Our Lord” is a reference to Shamash, a popular sun god of the Sumerians no one knows the identities of the other two deities. One Iraqi archaeologist speculates that the cult came from Arabia a passageway that wraps around one temple, he says, is a sign that worshipers circled the sanctuary—like the circling of the Kaaba shrine in the plaza in Mecca, an ancient Arab practice that predates Muhammad’s time.

    After A.D. 300, Hatra was abandoned. Iraqi archaeologists have found tenuous evidence that the northern gate of the city was destroyed at about that time. It seems likely that Sassanian warriors—yet another wave of invaders from the Iranian plateau—swept down on the city. Their new empire, with its state religion of Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic belief system from the highlands of Iran and Afghanistan that emphasized the fight between good and evil, may have looked unkindly on a major gathering place for infidels, says Ricciardi. Whatever the cause, Hatra subsided back into the desert. Its remote location has left it mostly undisturbed.


    The extraordinary mud-brick spiral minaret of Samarra rises 170 feet into the bright blue sky of north-central Iraq, 80 miles northwest of Baghdad. Built next to a huge mosque in A.D. 850, when Europeans were still erecting crude churches, the minaret provides a glimpse into the glory of one of the most sprawling cities of the premodern era and one of the richest archaeological sites in the world. Covering almost 20 square miles, Samarra grew up virtually overnight into the proud capital of the Abbasid caliphs (descendants of Abbas, the uncle of Muhammad), only to fall into decay less than a century later.

    “A mushroom city,” is how Alastair Northedge, an archaeologist at the University of Paris, describes the oncegrand metropolis of some 200,000 people, more than 20,000 houses, hundreds of military barracks and dozens of palaces, all built in two years. He is just completing a 20-year study of Samarra, using British aerial photographs from the 1950s, U.S. spy-satellite images from the 󈨀s and his own ground surveys. “In Samarra, everything is big, and there are always more of them,” Northedge says of the city’s mosques and palaces.

    Until the ninth century, Samarra, with its shallow soil and nearby deserts, had been an unappealing place for everyone but Sassanian kings (A.D. 224 to 640) on the hunt. Four huge hunting reserves—one with mud walls 12 miles long—were stocked with gazelles, wild donkeys, lions and other prey. “It was like Versailles,” says Northedge. “The animals were shuffled in front of the king, who then massacred them.”

    Hunting also drew one caliph who lived in Baghdad three centuries later. In A.D. 834 Caliph al-Mu’tasim left behind the rich but crowded city and moved northwest to the open spaces of Samarra, a word meaning “he who sees it is delighted.” But his move wasn’t just for the hunt. His troops, composed in part of rowdy Turks from central Asia, were causing trouble in Baghdad, and the move eased the tension.

    For the next two years, a frenzy of construction overtook the plain adjoining the TigrisRiver. Vast boulevards stretched for miles to provide easy movement of the caliph’s military force of more than 50,000 Turks, Egyptians, Iranians and Arabs. Soldiers brought their wives and families, and traders brought their wares. Al-Mu’tasim and his successors built palaces with huge courtyards and fountains. Poets, some of whom are famous even today in the Arab world, flocked to the new pleasure gardens to write about the glory of Allah and of love and beauty. Others such as Abu al-’Anbas al-Saymari praised wine and wrote enthusiastically about erotic pleasures and aids to digestion. Artisans created fantastic stucco friezes with abstract designs. Glazed tiles, which became a staple of Islamic buildings, were first made here. Blue glass panels—a great novelty—decorated the walls of the central mosque, and pilgrims marveled to see one another through this magical material.

    Unlike Louis XIVat Versailles, Al-Mu’tasim didn’t drive the state into bankruptcy in constructing Samarra. Archaeologists and historians estimate that a fifth or less of the state’s annual revenues went to the project. Lavish parties consumed a large share of state funds: one of the most elaborate palaces in Samarra, for example, cost only a quarter of what was paid for one especially elaborate circumcision party for a prince. A portion of Al-Mu’tasim’s palace has been restored by Saddam’s government. Arched chambers radiate out from a round pool 215 feet in diameter, whose waters must have provided a welcome sanctuary for courtiers during the intense summer heat. But after A.D. 860, succession disputes, assassinations and troop unrest brought an end to Samarra.

    “This is one of the great Islamic creations,” says Northedge. Sadly, some of Samarra’s spectacular artifacts were in the NationalMuseum when it was looted in April and might be lost forever. But much of the city remains unexcavated. Archaeologists can only hope that the remaining examples from this era of Iraq’s rich artistic and intellectual life are safely hidden.

    Within days of the museum thefts, experts feared that artifacts had crossed Iraq’s newly opened borders and were being offered for sale

    Will Ancient Persian Artifacts Be Sold To The Highest Bidder?

    O n December 4th, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a case that will decide the fate of the Persepolis tablets – ancient Persian artifacts that are currently on display in the United States. The Persepolis tablets are clay tablets written in Aramaic and other ancient languages dating back to the fifth century BC, and contain important clues about the religion, administration, society, and economy inside the ancient Persian empire. Millions of Iranian descendants of the Persian empire across the globe today treasure these precious artifacts as historical records of their lineage. If successful, the plaintiffs may be able to seize these precious artifacts from the museums that are currently displaying them to sell them off to the highest bidder.

    The Court is faced with one question: can United States citizen victims of terror sue foreign countries designated as state sponsors of terror, win judgments for money damages, and seize and sell the property of the foreign country to satisfy the judgment? That is the question that will ultimately decide whether the Supreme Court of the United States will allow ancient artifacts from the Persian empire to be seized from museums and sold into private hands after it hears the case of Rubin v. Islamic Republic of Iran in less than two weeks.

    In September 1997, three Hamas suicide bombers entered a crowded pedestrian mall in Jerusalem and blew themselves up, killing and injuring many people. Eight plaintiffs – comprised of victims or family members of victims of the Jerusalem attack – filed suit against the Islamic Republic of Iran alleging liability on the basis that Iran’s government, as a U.S-designated state sponsor of terror providing support to Hamas, were responsible for the attack.

    In 2003, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia entered a default judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs in the amount of $71.5 million, which Iran did not pay. In an effort to collect the $71.5 million, the plaintiffs initiated numerous other cases across the country over the course of 13 years as creditors attempting to seize and attach on Iranian assets located inside the United States.

    In their third major attempt to seize and attach to Iranian government assets, the plaintiffs sought to seize four collections of ancient Persian artifacts, including a collection of tablets containing some of the oldest writings in the world – the Persepolis tablets. The collections of artifacts at issue are allegedly owned by Iran, but were loaned to or purchased by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History and the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

    As a general rule, sovereign foreign governments are immune from lawsuits in the United States. However, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (“FSIA”) 28 U.S.C. § 1610 was amended in 2002 to provide an exception that allows plaintiffs to sue in cases of state-sponsored terrorism. The plaintiffs argued that they should be able to seize the Iranian artifacts under the FSIA.

    The District Court held, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, that although the FSIA allows plaintiffs to seize the property of a foreign state-sponsor of terror that is “used for a commercial activity in the United States,” the law requires the property to be used by the foreign government itself, not a third party like the Chicago museums that have the artifacts either on loan from Iran, or own them.

    A prior case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals resulted in an opposite decision, finding that terror victims are able to attach and execute on any asset of a foreign state sponsor of terror, irrespective of the FSIA law. Because of the conflicting conclusions reached by the Seventh and Ninth Circuits, the Supreme Court will hear the case in December and then ultimately decide whether these ancient Persian artifacts will be awarded to the plaintiffs.The court has already decided to weigh in on a case that carries significant consequences for the political branches of government and foreign policy objectives. A decision that would allow the property of a sovereign government to be seized to satisfy a judgment may lead to foreign governments withdrawing property out of the United States, and therefore weakening the bargaining and negotiating position of the President with foreign governments. An additional unintended consequence may be the imposition of reciprocal sanctions on U.S. property abroad.

    The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has opposed the seizure of the tablets and has filed an amicus brief with the appellate court. NIAC has argued that victims of terror deserve to be heard – that they deserve justice. But NIAC also believes and argues that depriving millions of Iranians across the globe – who have no ties to terrorism and reject and condemn terrorism – access to these precious artifacts by selling off their history and heritage to the highest bidder is itself an unjust act.

    The Supreme Court will hear the case on December 4, and will issue its decision sometime thereafter.

    The History Blog

    German authorities have returned a 4,500-year-old Mesopotamian battle axe to Iraq. Although nobody is sure where exactly it was stolen from and what path it took out of the country, it was probably looted from an Iraqi museum or archaeological site in the chaos in the wake of the 2003 US invasion.

    German authorities found the ancient axe in 2004 during an investigation into a Munich antiquities dealer and turned it over to the Roman-Germanic Central Museum (RGZM) in Mainz to determine its origin and age.

    The museum found the decorated axe was from the Mesopotamian city-state of Ur, presently the site of the city Tell el-Mukayyar in southern Iraq.

    Museum officials returned the axe to Iraqi Ambassador to Berlin Hussain M. Fadhlalla al-Khateeb.

    The Munich dealer is not named in any of the articles, but there was a story a couple of years ago about a Munich dealer being busted with looted Iraqi artifacts in 2004. Perhaps this is the same scofflaw.

    That article also points out that the Iraqi government was concerned about Germany becoming a hub for smuggled loot because they have such a high burden of proof that it makes it virtually impossible to prove in a court of law that an unprovenanced object was in fact stolen.

    “Unfortunately, we have information that make it clear that Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market and the authorities have not yet done enough to prevent it” [former Iraqi ambassador to Berlin Alaa Al-Hashimy] said. “The legal situation in Germany is very unfortunate for us. The burden of proof is too high, especially for objects stolen by grave robbers” he said. “Even an expert opinion with a probability of provenance of 95 percent isn’t enough for the courts. Only previously catalogued objects such as those looted from the National Museum in Baghdad can be easily determined to be stolen”.

    Before 2009, only one artifact thought to be looted had been returned to Iraq and it too was an axe, as coincidence would have it. The fact that it took close to 7 years for the German government to go from confiscating this battle axe to returning it indicates that there is still a major bottle neck.

    This entry was posted on Sunday, February 13th, 2011 at 10:12 PM and is filed under Ancient, Looting, Museums, Treasures. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

    Should ancient artifacts return home?

    Even before the word "archaeology" was invented, people have been removing artifacts from their original context - or location. Objects have been taken to be sold for profit, saved as souvenirs, and put in museums. Often, historically important artifacts that have been placed in large, national museums have become points of national pride. Think of the Egyptian Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, or the Greek "Nike of Samothrace" at the Louve in Paris (the French call it the Winged Victory of Samothrace)

    In the past few decades, some governments have politely asked for objects that they feel have been pillaged from their countries to be returned. During the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece attempted to pressure Great Britain for the return of the displaced Parthenon or "Elgin" marbles by announcing the building a brand new museum for them, the Acropolis Museum. Italy recently returned an obelisk that was taken from Ethiopia just before World War II.

    Recently however, the demand for the return of these has taken a more formal, and perhaps less polite, turn. Egypt recently announced that it has decided to sue two museums, one in England and one in Belgium for the return two pharaonic relief - or tomb carvings. Egypt says that if the museums don't return the artifacts in question, archaeologists who work in those museums will not be allowed to continue digging in the "Land of the Pharaohs". Zahi Hawass, the director of Egypt's Supreme Council on Antiquities has made it his mission to have as many objects as possible returned to his home country as quickly as possible, especially the famous ones like the Rosetta Stone - which was the key to unlocking Ancient Egypt's hieroglyphic language.

    Some archaeologists are nervous that the return of the Elgin marbles or the Rosetta Stone will open the "flood-gates" for the return of hundreds if not thousands of artifacts. Museums like the British Museum have argued that they not only promote scientific research on these objects, but having them in places like London, Paris, and New York allows millions of visitors to come and visit them every year. Others argue that it is important for countries to have the objects which reflect their cultural heritage and national history in their own museums.
    What do you think? Where do these objects belong?

    Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

    I disagree that the artefacts should be returned home to conditions they wouldnt possibly be able to survive in. For example if we sent home wooden african figures to their original context they would soon decay in the humid conditions. The protection of these artefacts is also questionable in countries in financial difficulty. The temptation could be too much. Also nobody has absorbed the point that by spreading artefacts around the world,in relation to their origins,we are reducing the understanding of civilisations our future generatiosn will have.

    This makes me think of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). NAGPRA is a Federal law that provides a process for museums to return certain Native American cultural items such as human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony to descendants and affiliated Indian tribes.

    If anyone is interested, the Science Museum of Minnesota has a Policy Statement on Collections Management, which includes how we adhere to the NAGPRA guidelines.

    That's a great point, Joe. While NAGPRA governs the return of artifacts via federal law, it is interesting to note that some museums and universities have returned objects (including human remains) to peoples outside of the United States voluntarily.
    Is this the start of a world-wide trend? It is hard to say.
    One First Nations tribe in particular, the Haida in British Columbia, Canada, have been very successful in organizing the repatriation of human remains held in American museums.
    They have a website at:
    A group of indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, have also been very influential in their international requests for the return of sacred artifacts and human remains.

    I think that the artifacts should be put back where the people found them.

    Actually, once an artifact is uncovered, the place where they were found may be unsafe depending on where that is.
    If that IS the case, the artifact is in danger of being stolen or destroyed by natural causes.

    I'm doing a paper on this subject and yes, I believe, if they were in any way moved to another country in the past, the country that houses the original dig site should have everything returned.

    Now, there is the issue of past collection and maintenance that England (I'll use the Egyptian artifacts as an example) went through in the last 100 or so years. Should they be reimbursed? Or should the Egyptian Government pay a fee to appease the English so they can give up many precious artifacts?

    I believe that the government should pay a fee otherwise whats the reward. I mean you found it you deserve a thanks!

    haha you missed spelled Louvre!! but i do think artifacts should go back where they belong because they're part of their culture!

    I suppose it would be cruel to point out the irony here. -)

    It is an interesting question and does not led itself to an easy answer. Just because an item is found in a certain location doesn't mean that it is an artifact of the current indigenous population. What if the artifact is from a culture that isn't represented by the current government of the area? Who should the artifact be returned to? What about the cases where a "legitimate" representative of a government donated or even sold an item to a foreign government, museum, or collector? The human remains question can be just as murky. It is far to simplistic to say "yes return them"!

    But, in retrospect, when Howard Carter, for example, found King Tut's Tomb, could it have remained in Egypt housed by an adequate museum and maintained by proper entities? Or did he make the right decision to send it immediately to England where it can be properly examined and studied.

    ah, such controversy, I'm still having trouble starting my paper on this subject.

    Tutankhamen's tomb never left Egypt and neither did any of its contents, except on loan. It's difficult to physically move a tomb!
    I think that artefacts should be returned to place of origin, in terms of ethics, but as you note, it depends on correct conservation methods.

    you spelled artifacts wrong. but i think that artifacts should return home because they were wrongfully taken.

    "Artefacts" is an acceptable alternate spelling, more common in British English than American.

    i also think artifacts should return home cuz of the egyptians believes and cultures

    Yes, Carter made the right decision to send the tomb to England but sending the tomb back to Egypt after the examinations would have been ideal.

    it is really important 4 the country of the artifacts 2 have the artifacts u noe

    I was watching the olympics in Turin and was amazed at the musuem they had there that was full of these Egyptian artifacts that were sold by an excavator to the royal family. These artifacts belong to Egypt and should be returned. That would be like someone coming to America and digging up George Washington or Abraham Lincoln and selling them.

    I like your input. A great example of this would be Persian imperial artifacts showing up in Greece. To whom do they belong? Greece? Iran? Even Iran is governed by Arabian people mostly, so the best solution is to let it be kept by the people who found it, returning it to whom they desire. Another important thing that should be mentioned is that protection of artifacts is very important and can't always be done by poorer nations.

    It is a difficult problem- at what point does the history of the object stop? Many times How and Who found the artifact is just as important as where it was found. For example: British Archaology and Egyptian Archaeology DO have ties and connections- is it wrong to dismiss that history? There is also the question of care- how heartbreaking it would be to turn over a collection to another museum knowing that the care of the object(s) would be in question.

    I do indeed think that the artifacts should be put back in the COUNTRY they were found. Like if a special rock was found in afganistan or Egypt, whatever, it should be placed in a museum in that country. Not in the best country, U.S.A, but the country they were found.

    I think that the artifacts should belong to the country where they were found, but (if the country is OK with it) they should also be allowed to travel to other countries as "special exibits".

    Why couldn't we take them from there original home, show them to other countries and people all around the world, then ship them back to the original country?

    Can someone help me or tell me the reason that why artifacts should NOT be return back to their orgin.

    Theres the issue of whats best for the artifact. If a country can properly house and care for an artifact, its fine to return it. Like the Pantheon in Greece- a wonderful museum was built for them, and the British should return the pieces. Theres also the question of if its even the same culture- I believe objects that are thousands of years old belong to all of humanity. The culture it came from no longer exists, just people living where it once did. They may be descendent's, but no one is 'connected' to their lineage some 2,000 years back.

    Whether return the artifacts or not is a question to debate upon. In fact, even if museums return artifacts back to their countries of origin, it is doubted whether the countries of origin can protect the artifacts properly and safely. Those essentially important artifacts are not only treasures of a single country any more, but treasures of the world--we all have rights to care for them.

    The problem, at its centre, is a debate of Internationlism and Nationalism.
    While it's ok to say that we all have the right to take care of the artifacts, it shouldn't be the excuse under which we refuse to return the treasure to the country of origin.
    The artifact has its unique value because of its cultural contents, thus it could only display its integrity in where it belongs. This is like sending a painter to the country where his inspiration lies, not in a city centre where the best drawing facilities can be bought.
    We have reasons to doubt the real care taken in the country where the artifacts are kept. In fact some investigations showed that the earlier thefted artifacts are buried and ignored in some possessing countries.
    There are many ways we can help the artifacts to be known to more in the world. Seizing them in the hands where they were seized may be the worst, but mentioned the most in the present world, probably because it's internally the more selfish one. If we are really considering for the human treasure, we could help the artifacts return to its country of origin, when the country is capable to take care of the artifacts and we could help the country of origin to receive the artifacts by aiding with the facilities and the general education.
    The artifacts should return to their countries of origin as their final destiny.
    We are in the same family. We did contribution to take care of each others' children when their families are in trouble, but we will do crime if we refuse to return the child to their own parents.
    It may take efforts for everyone to make an agreement on the issue, but we can see the light if we are really thinking for the artifacts' sake- for the treasure of all humanity.

    the artifacts that were taken should go back to where they came from. No one had the right to take the artifacts from their original place. They should be returned as soon as possible. How would you like it if someone came and took valuable things from your house? I know I would not like that at all. So be considerate of other people belongings.

    This article from the Wall Street Journal summarizes many of these issues, and offeres a nice solution: ownership of objects may revert to the country of origin, but the objects themselves can stay in their current museums on long-term loan.

    I agree that cultural treasures should be returned to their country of origin because that is where they belong if something came from africa that means that it can go there without damge according to climate because it was originally from there. I dont think that the government would take something they know wouldnt be able to survive in its country because of security, then there is no point of bringing it back but these historical artefacts have great value to the its people and tell of their stories which might not have great importance to someone of a different background. If an artefact is taken back to its country of origin thats means its true identity is told with experience and emotion and truth.

    A lot of people I think are ignoring a fundamental point in this whole discussion. "Economics". Artifacts such as the Rosetta Stone in London and the Nefertiti's statue in Berlin both of which were taken away from Egypt illegally are generating millions of dollars every year for those museums and plays a big role in the tourist industry for those cities.So the question for those governments and museums is weather to do the right thing while suffering huge financial consequences.
    It is true that artifacts should only be returned if proper care can be provided by the countries of origins but usually museums argue this differently by stating that they should keep the artifacts because they can display them better and not because Egypt can't house them properly. A lot of arguments are made by museums holding such artifacts in foreign countries but it will be easier to understand their reluctance if you simply considered the amount of money they are generating by keeping them:).

    Everything that belongs to Egypt must be returned to Egypt.
    All the money made by those English and German Museums whatever, should be given to Egypt.
    They are making money on Egyptians' back, and they dont have the right to take them away from their original country. This is part of their heritage and culture. And, hey guys, we are not in the 18th century. The Egyptian Museum can take care of it all. And they will be safe, God's will.

    The thing to consider is that artifcats taken are not/have not always been cared for in the best possible way and sometimes either by lack of understanding or purpose have been destroyed. Some objects from Egypt were irreversably damaged because the were made of sandstone and were damaged in Industrial age London smog. Since so much has changed hands we need a policy that looks at the big picture that allows for change overtime. Like NAGPRA-those seeking a return of an item have to establish (prove) a cultural connection to the item. They also should need to demonstrate an ability to care for the items-but ultimately who are "we" to decide that. It is an sad part of human history that things we just taken and those in power deem themselves the only ones capable of caring for an artifact.

    this is a very interesting perspective of yor point of view, sukey, i am in 100% agreement with you

    Although I agree with that statement for my own personal benefit, looking at it from their point of view, who are we to determine their worthiness. Its a ongoing debate that unfortunately has not correct answer. If we were to loose the declaration to england because terrorist attacks make the east coast an unstable home the i believe we would throw a great fit.

    I agree with you.. If we left these in the countries that weren't able to care for them properly and they parishes because of it, how would we ever know anything about that countries history?

    Your comment isn't even an argument. It just shows how selfish you are, you think there aren't GOOD museums in other countries? Are you trying to tell the future generations that "looting is right"?

    I don't think anyone is promoting looting however the point they are trying to make is that realistically some countries (especially third-world countries) main concern is not of the preservation of artifacts so that future generations can learn from, but they hope that by acquiring these artifacts it will give themselves more power. And by the way if you are going to argue a point you incredibly cripple your argument if you attack your opponent personally, its in bad taste and honestly has no purpose.

    We're not saying that we're just going to bury the things back in the sand and leave them, what we mean is returning them to their home country, in a museum there.

    I agree that these artifacts should be returned to the location it came from. It's not their right to take something that doesn't belong to them. Foreigners should be banned, especially the British and Americans.

    I certainly woudn't agree artifacts are historic representation of Culture & Heritage It doesn't give any country right to hold on to such things which mostly has been looted from other country in the name of research and do you thing a person who wants to learn his country's heritage and history should go to other country.

    Spreading of artifacts around the world is all nice and high minded, however, if you look carefully most of the spreading has been done by western imperialists looting and sacking from ancient civilizations such as Egypt and China.
    How many western artifacts can you find in those countries?? precious little .

    ."Western Imperialists" I guarentee includes yourself/

    They were there before they were dug up, and they survived thus far. If thats the case, allow another country to come and get the state of Liberty and bring it back to their country. Americans would have a fit.

    It doesn't matter where the artifacts are as long as they can be appreciated by those who have interest. This age is different than the previous. These countries that want them back should have thought about letting people come and dig for them then. The 1970 law allows for anything taken before then is legal to posses.

    Conditions can be made for them to survive, are you saying their original owners can't take care of them?

    That is not entirely true Sukey. You wanna hear a real example? Japan stole enormous amount of Korean history while they controlled Korea. Now Japan is restricting Korean tourists to get even closer to Temples fearing some Korean tourists will still the artifacts which originally belong to Korea and made by Korean ancestors. Many wealthy countries stole huge part of 3rd developing countries history. When you Go to ROM in Toronto, The only genuine pieces made by real Canadian are First Nation section. All other artifacts are from many other countires. If each country presents only authentic pieces made by them. It will be one empty meseum with not much to show off. What you are saying is nothig but a lame excuse for wealthy country to take away someone's history by saying you will retrieve them and recover them and never bring them back to where it belongs which many countries have done.

    the should be returned. hurrah!

    i believe that the artifacts do not need to be returned. I use some crude logic, but i believe that artifacts are like land. If we needed to return everything that we took from natives many of us, if not all, would be homeless. In most cases, we are not living in the same land that our direct ancestors inhabited. In the same way that artifacts were taken, peices of land were taken. However, there is no talk of returning theland and rightfully so.

    Also, in a way, the conquering armies earned the artifacts. Many empires who went across the world conquering lands collected these artifacts. It isn't necessarily finders keepers. But if an army were to get the peices of cultural importance it is theirs. I have a lot more thoughts but i dont feel like explaining them.

    I think we should return the land because we had no right to this land, it belonged to the Native Americans, we wrongfully took the land killed their people and crushed their culture.

    i personally think that artifacts should return the tthe home they came from, if you disturb them they may not rest in peace

    The monuments are literally crumbling and Africa needs money to restore them. They dont have the resources to take care of these artifacts and are in many problems right now that can effect the artifacts in a negetive way. We have to think of what will happen to the artifacts before spiritual beliefs.

    Yes they should return to the care of the original nation. This is not for endulging your past history. This is the nations history, their culture, their life!

    I understand the concerns of England and France, as to not trusting the nations. But when I go to Greece or Egypt I do not want to go to France and England to find out the history's of the other nations.

    Well, I personally think we should retuen the artefacts. Our class is debating upon this issue, and I pretty sure it's the right thing to do.

    Regarding the Elgin Marbles,

    ". a Nitrogen Air-Conditioning Hall has been built in Athens where the Caryatids will be sheltered and protected from the city's pollution. Other relative measures are being taken to preserve the Elgin Marbles if and when they are eventually returned."

    Why insist that this can't be returned because of climate conditions?

    I think that these artifacts should be returned to the countries they were found. In my opinion the western world stole these things to enrich thier own culture, which is almost non existent when compared to the past civillizations that existed. These artifacts are the heritage and lineage for those countries. How would we americans like it, if things that are important in our history be displayed in Japan for thier viewing pleasure? I strongly believe that it just thievery disguised in a fancier way, if they cared a lot about these artifacts as they argue, they would take them back home and preserve them there. So that if you want to see them you go there for yourself and experience everything that country has to offer both past and present. It is a pattern in history where the western world strips other "primitive" civillizations of what rights they have and what rightly belongs to them. I do not think that is ever going to change although i truly hope it does.
    Even when it comes to civillizations like the early roman and greek and egyptian civillizations, most of thier artifacts are in france or britain and even here in the U.S. They should be taken back to Rome, greece and egypt. e.t.c, to the people who have every right to them.

    In my opinion, these artefacts should return to their origin. Even if they were stolen, which we do not know, they should be viewed in their country of origin because they are part of the identity of the culture, and people in this culture should be able to see these things in their own country not in another place.

    Due to the fact that the Rosetta Stone is currently in The British Musuem, I personally think that since it is the Egyptian icon of their identity. It will be protected properly there and besides, how would you like it if someone just came along and looted a precious artifact of your original culture? Respect other countries identities.

    I think we should return these artefacts but if your arms are weak and you cannot hold you baby, wouldn't you rather someone else hold it rather than lay the baby on the ground. That's why the best way to handle this is to help the devellopping and then return their artefacts.

    If proper documentation and proof of ownership is established, then by all means a particular artefact should be returned. The onerous part is establishing ownership and the possession chain. Unlike many illicit materials (and stolen artefacts, by nature of being wrongfully obtained, are illiicit materials), ownership and a papertrail should exist and provide adequate evidence of whose rightful property such objects are.
    On another note, Public Museums do not OWN their collections per se. Public Museums are merely the stewards of such objects. Therefore, if it is proven by due documentation that any given peice of a collection was wrongfully - or erroneously - accquisitioned, then the given object should be deaccquisitioned to the proper authorities who should then make the decision as to whether to return the artefact to a private owner.
    As long as it is accomplished by due process, any such artefact should be returned to a steward organization local to the original owner. That entity should then decide the article's fate, as is its right. Say a state museum is holding an Iriquois treasure obtained from a village when sacked by US Cavalrymen. The rightful owner (assuming that in this enlightened age we can dispense with 'to the victors . . ') would be either the descendent or the tribe thus assaulted. The state museum cannot go to Joe Running Bear and hand over the object (most state museums can only hand over pieces of their collections to registered non-profit organizations). The Curator or Director of the museum would have to deaccquistion the object and transfer custodianship to a responsible organization such as a tribal council. It would then be the tribal council's responsibility to decide the fate of the object, a decision which would require proper identification and documentation.

    Now, more essoterically, who should have proprietorship over treasures of [no longer extant] civilizations? The muddle-blooded offspring only locationally related to the original artisans? The current political institution claiming dominion over the original dig sites?
    I believe such objects are treasures of humanity. Those found destroying such, in my opinion, should be subject to indictment for crimes against humanity (such as certain idols and millennia-old icons destroyed out of religeous fanaticism by numerous extremists over the last few hundred years, including damage to the sphinx and the parthenon).

    Today technology makes it possible to reproduce most of the artifacts. For restoration or visual display, virtual replicas could more than represent any lost treasure.
    Privately owned archaeological or historical art is a fact complicated by rights, value, and historicity.

    Wasn't there an act past in the 70's to make it illegal to own artfacts and such items or to take them out of its country of origin? I am doing some reading on cambodian art an have read how they took statues out of the country back in 80's and 90's. Is that illegal? a

    Not all artifacts should be returned to source countries. More people can learn about and appreciate the artifacts if they are spread out in museums throughout the world. Also, artifacts belong to all people, not just the citizens of the country where they were found. The cultures that artifacts represent are not the same as the people living in the country now. I don't think there are many people in Greece who still worship Zeus. Finally, museums should be allowed to keep some objects in exchange for ther preservation of artifacts and the scientific contributions they have been able to make by studying them. Some artifacts should be returned to countries, but not all of them.

    I am doing an essay on this subject and I have just read through the comments. I think that we don't need to return them, because the people took them because they didn't a camera to make a picture of them. As well when they got home they wanted to show the people of there country how other people lived

    I see the point for returning them, but some of them are not very good reasons. I think that we should be able to ship them around the world as "special exhibits" and after we are done we could return them back. But there is also the possobility that the country is not able to take care of the artifacts. What if we could decide on letting other countries keep them until the country was able to take care of it. Or we could all share them and legally transport them all around the world.

    The following are in order of priority :

    1 The artifacts should be returned to the Country of Origin if circumstances dictate that it will be in good hands, and not fall into the hands of a corrupted government, who would sell it for profit.

    2 If not, the embassy or consulate of the Country of Origin may set up a center for displaying the artifacts.

    3 Another way to preserve artifacts of international interest is to keep them in the UN headquarters.

    4 The last resort is to keep them as it is.

    The items should not be returned. Look what happened to the Bagdad museum! As soon as the country destabilized, the townsfolk looted the museums and took everything. now all those wonderful artifacts from Mesopotamia are gone. They will never be returned or researched further. If you send artifacts back to Egypt, then next war or civil unrest, say goodbye to those pieces as well. Nothing will happen to those pieces in America, Canada, Britain, France, Germany etc. They're safe and in the hands of non-radical fundamentalist religious fanatics who wish to make Allah supreme God. They will all be destroyed eventually otherwise. Let scholars and researchers take care of them!

    1) What say European countries would not engage in war? In fact Europe has seen war TWICE in the last century and Paris was nearly destroyed by Hitler.

    2) The fact that somebody can take better care of the artifact does not warrant stealing it. Theft remains theft. It is like stealing rich people's money because you think you can better spend/keep/invest it.

    3) Western countries contribute just as much if not more than middle east countries to the instability of the region. It is like me keep raiding your home and wouldn't return what I have stolen because I believe "your home is unsafe". Well who made it unsafe at the first place?

    4) Last but not least, what about artifacts that are from countries that have stability and financial power to take care of them? The Chinese, in particular, will have more than enough resources and scholars to take care of their own artifacts. If what is stolen from China is not returned, all the "it is dangerous", and "they can't take good care of them" saying remains excuses.

    Let me remind you, these artifacts are STOLEN from their home countries.

    Artefacts are not always stolen. Some are found by people within the country and sold on the black market to neighboor countries. I also believe that the protection of these artefacts are the main priority. I'm not saying that western countries should keep them but we should be wise. I think helping countries with financial difficulties would be the best way to insure that the artefacts are safe in there home country.

    Not all middle eastern countries are filled with "radical fundamentalist religious fanatics who wish to make Allah supreme God" who loot museums and destroy culture.
    That is an ignorant position. those people looted those artifacts for their own reasons and looting does happen everywhere after an emergency. Think of Los Angelos and the looting that happens after earth quakes.

    I think that the stollen monuments should return to their home country only if the government of their home country could preserve them properly in siutable musueums and make them accessible to their visitiors like the Greek government and the Egyptian one who are able to preserve their monuments.

    Should artifacts be returned to there country of origin? That really depends on how they were originally obtained! In most cases the ancient artifacts that are displayed in the major musuems of the world were obtained with the complete knowledge and consent of the countries from which they came. That being the case they should remain where they are. Archaeological expeditions are funded by individuals and organizations with the anticiption that a certain amount of the artifacts that are found will be allowed to be exported in return for the work that is performed by the Archaeological expedition. Generally, in the past the countries of origin have agreed to this and have 'first pick' of the artifacts that are found. It is only within the recent past that countries such as Egypt, Greece and Turkey have started to press for the return of artifacts that have been LEGALLY exported to others for display in musuems. There are many cases of musuems that have returned artifacts to countries of origin when it has been shown these were not legally obtained. There are also cases were musuems have returned fragments of artifacts so that they could be reunited with other pieces of the artifact thus making it whole once again. In both of these cases musuems have acted in an extremely responsible manner and will probably continue to do so! To ask for entire collections or portions of them to be returned when they were legally obtained is UNREASONABLE! When musuems display artifacts from other countries it allows the culture of the country of origin to be shared and possibly better understood by others. As our world evovles into a global economy this has to be an very positive aspect.

    i have mixed views on this subject as on the one hand its good knoledge and very intresting and informational but on the other you have to understand that the ancient egyptions belived in the after life and this i think will hinder them in some way from have a full after life also we should think about it this way would you like your ancestors put on show with all there worldly goods in all different countries we have to think that back in ancient time they were very strong belivers that they would go onto better things like bacomming gods and do we really have the right to step into that path .

    I think that this is completely wrong that they would not give artifacts to there original countries. But they won't because the other countries want them as an eyecatcher in a museum so they can make money

    Isn't that what the museum that is holding the artifacts that are from the other country is doing? Though I would argue that the museum's intent is more to educate than to rake in cash, and further the countries that are trying to reclaim the artifacts are just trying to get back parts of their history. Its not a simple answer.

    artifacts should not be returned to their countries of origen. if someone else had to come into their country and find them, it means that the native people of that country were unable to do it themselves. i say finders keepers.

    I think that the artifacts should be returned to their countries. What if the natives of the country knew where to find them but didn't want to disturb them because the artifacts were seen as sacred? If you just go in there and take the artifacts when some people would just like them to stay as they were it would be like stealing!

    They should go back home where they belong! What kind of morals are you setting for the future? Is that right to find something and just keep it? NO! You should always return it to the owner. For example. What if you found a really cute loving dog and you knew that it belonged to someone? Would you try to find the owner and return the dog or just say "OH FINDERS KEEPERS!"?

    Is there any way for a private collector to obtain ancient artifacts legally?

    MANY of the objects which are under debate such as King Tut's tomb, his burial headdress and his belongings which reside in England . and many other artifacts. where taken out of countries a LONG time ago. At that time in history these artifacts were NOT stolen . there were NO laws or restrictions governing what should happen to these artifacts. Archaeologists were allowed to come in and keep whatever they found. it was up to them to find the resources necessary to remove them and ship them back to their countries ( a lot harder back then). It was not stealing then . it is only considered stealing now due to modern restrictions and laws saying people cannot take things out of countries. Is it fair to give them back when, when they were taken it was perfectly LEGAL? Not really! I agree that objects found now should reside in their country of origin or where they are found BUT artifacts taken from countries lets say before WWII don't have to be returned. People and countries all evolve, maybe restrictions were set in place because countries have learned from their "mistakes" of the past.

    haha you are are all telling lies.

    U R wrong. People should keep the artifact to sell to museum.THey have no right to take an artifact from someone who found it.

    Im doing a Prop on this in class and i believe the foreign countries should get back their stolen goods. In america we have rules right like no violence,drugs,abbuse, and stealing etc. So if the museums can just steal artifacts from other countries isnt that just breaking wat america stands for today?

    Also america brings up a good arguement that "these artifacts would never have survived if they were left these items there". In most cases this is true. Americas intentions were good but their actions weren't. It's the foreign countries decision to do whatever they please with their porperty. America can't take matters into their own hands like that.

    In addition, If the museums really wanted to have a piece of the distance countries culture they shouldve just asked permission. "Hello we are a famous museum that is collecting rare artifacts of the different cultures, we were curious if you would like to contribute a special items that represent your hetitage and of course we will send u pieces of the profits we make" These few words is all it basically takes.

    In many cases, the artifacts were acquired within the laws that were in force at that time. But the argument has been made that those old laws were too lax. Should museums be held responsible for actions which were legal 100 years ago when the object was collected, but which are illegal today?

    Im doing a research paper for school on this topic, apparently there is quite a variety of perspectives. Personally, i think the artifacts belong to the country they came from, after all, most of them were stolen. However, many of you do have a point, the artifacts are international as well as national treasures, plus, not all of us have the money to go to egypt or china solely to admire that nation's historical icons. another thought: why is it that we dont return the artifacts to their countries and they rest of the world can enjoy fakes? second thought: jow on earth am i gonna do the paper now?! I'm only allowed to pick one side of the argument.

    I agree that they belong in the country they came from due to there heritage and that the countries may want them for there own.

    If a country didnt want their artifacts , well the other countries can have. I think that is OK.

    If the other country got them and then destroyed or threw
    it away then IT IS NOT OK.

    I think artifacts should be returned home because they come from that country, but they shouldn't be returned to countries who can not afford to look after them. Also if they are returned the country should lend them out to other countries.

    hi i think we should return the artifacts but i am bored now so bye

    I believe that the country of origin should get their artifacts back, UNLESS the country can not afford to look after them, then they should stay where they are so they don't get destroyed and so other people can see them.

    I believe that the country of origin should have the artifacts. simply because it is part of their heritage and culture. It is vital that the country of origin to learn about their past. In order to learn about their past they need things from their past to provide knowledge.
    But, if the country of origin cant afford to keep it in good condition they should just probably just leave it in the other countries museum.
    Thats what i believe.

    In different situations, different acts are required. With something like an artifact that is made of wood, it can't be in a very wet/cold country, or a very humid country, it would decay.
    And you need to take in the facts that some countries simply cannot look after some artifacts, and a more advanced country, say, Britain, or the US of A, would have the necessary technology to support them.

    so. going along with all that. then all artifacts and remains found must go back to africa and asia. because according to evolution, we all came from there originally. (unless u don't believe in evo)

    that's what i don't like about claiming artifacts and such. i know it's disrespectful from the human perspective (especially if artifacts are human remains) but personally, in the perspective of science, it's just all science. human remains(just living creatures like everything else). artifacts(just made out of elements/material like everything else). no attachment of human morality to it.

    If you honestly and seriously would be ok with your mother or your spouse or your child's dead bodies ("just human remains") being put on display for strangers to see and comment on, then I guess you can have that opinion for yourself. But even in that case, just because you would be ok with it doesn't mean everybody else is. We are humans, not scientific-only emotionless automatons, and these were real people. They are someone's son/daughter, mother/father, sister/brother. They are someone's (now living someone's) ancestor, whether you can technically trace it back on paper or not. Even if they had no children and are no one's ancestor, they are a human being and deserve to be treated with respect. Their bodies should not be disturbed. At *least*, if you must dig them up for scientific/historical importance, then do your research and properly replace them.

    As for the idea of other countries having these artifacts "on long term loan" - that's just fancy talk for "never gonna give it back". Anybody knows that if you simply look at how long these museums have had the artifacts already. "Long term loan" is ambiguous and has no end date so you can just keep anything indefinitely on "long term loan" and say it's not stealing cuz you're just "borrowing" it. That's no less stealing than anyone else who takes your stuff and never gives it back cuz they are "just borrowing it". If museums are going to have things on display via a "long term loan" the actual "term" should be given. Otherwise it's just fancy theft to dance around the obvious grievance with legal wordage. The law doesn't always = what's right, and what's right should take precedence when it's obvious. That's like saying slavery was ok back in the day because it was still legal back then. That's like saying human sacrifice was ok because it was legal/religously acceptable back then. If in fact we are making progress ethically and in society, then we should function on our progress, not on how things were or what was legal "at the time".

    If you can honestly say you would be okay with strangers from everywhere viewing and commenting on the dead bodies of your mother, spouse, or children (who are "just living creatures") then I guess you could fairly have that opinion for yourself. But even if you do, that doesn't mean everybody else is ok with it. We *are* humans, and (even scientifically) as such, we are emotional beings. We are not automatons who could possibly ever see all things (maybe some things, and we are highly selective about those) from a removed point of view.

    We have to remember that, no matter how long ago they died or were found, that these were real people. These were someone's son/daughter, mother/father, husband/wife. They were no less human than we are, and they cared for one another, as obviously evidenced by the care with which they were entombed in the first place. The answer becomes obvious if you simply put yourself in the situation. If your father died and a few hundred years from now someone "dug him up for science" then maybe you'd be ok with that. Maybe you'd be ok with them doing tests on his bones to find out about our way of life from "way back then". But what about when they take his favorite pocket knife that never left his pants pocket? What about when they take his gold wedding ring off his boney finger that he so insisted to be buried with? The one that represents his eternal undying love for your mother - a very interesting cultural concept (most countries' cultures even now don't have that tradition of wearing a ring on that finger to represent marriage) - and display it in a museum. What then? Then it's wrong. And this is no different. Sometimes you don't have to invoke science or even the law (which isn't always supporting the right thing anyway) to know what's right and what's wrong. There is no law written that says helping someone struggling to carry a heavy load is right, but we all know it is. There is no scientific theory that says a mother who loves her adopted child does so for any reason other than the biological urge to pass on one's way of life and memory. But we all know there's more to it. Come on, people. It's a thin argument at best to say that displaying the precious belongings of the dead (or even their own bodies) is ok period, nevertheless for it to be done somewhere thousands of miles from the country where they were originally buried. We *are* human, so let's not play the game of pretending we aren't and that we are above emotional thought or incapable or reconciling ethics with reason.

    As for museums keeping things on "long term loan", that's thin too, seeing as how there's no acutal "term" to define just how long a "long term loan" is. Once again it's easy if you simply put yourself and *your* stuff there. Your grandma lent my grandma her car and was naive enough not to delineate on legal paper how long she could "borrow" it because she thought surely people have values and morals and wouldn't do that. My family's had it for over 100 years. It's a relice now, one of the first cars ever produced, and we keep it on display in our state-of-the-art garage made especially to keep it up-to-par for as long as possible (nevermind that we charge admission for viewing). What are you upset for? We're only keeping it on "long term loan". We're just "borrowing" it. Grandma said we could, 100 years ago, remember? We're not done with it yet. and we never will be. And neither will those big museums. They'll always keep them out on "long term loan" unless someone goes in and forces an actual legal time limit on it.

    The answers always become much clearer when you simply put *yourself* in the situation. It's so easy for us to discount something just because it isn't happening to us.

    i think that the cricumstances and conditions in their country of origin dictate what should happen.
    Say that the country was in a state of warfare, or encroching poverty, for the time being, it would be wise to keep them in a place/museum where they are safe from danger and will have better protection.
    Religious views will change. Some artefacts, for example, may depict a Christian state of the past. But if that same country is now dominated by a entirely different culture and religion, it is hardly likely that they will be respected by those people, especially when they suggest ideas untolerated by that culture.
    However, i believe that all these "excuses" can only be used temporarily. In the end, each country has a right to their artefacts, and these requests cannot be ignored. In the end, most of the world's artefacts will eventually be returned, either by good will or by force, and ultimately, their original context is where they belong, and will be appreciated the most.

    Stolen ancient artefact returns to Iran museum

    "It now belongs to the people who made it in the first place, and who are now going to preserve it, and is part of their identity," Firouzeh Sepidnameh, director of the ancient history section of the National Museum told AFP on Tuesday.

    The limestone relief was handed over to Iran´s representative at the United Nations last month and was personally brought back to Iran by President Hassan Rouhani, returning from the UN General Assembly.

    The bas-relief, approximately 25 centuries old, depicts the head of a soldier from a line of Immortal Guards.

    It was discovered in an archaeological dig in the early 1930s at Persepolis, capital of the Achaemenid Empire near today´s central Iranian city of Shiraz.

    The artefact was stolen four years after it was found, and ultimately ended up at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where it was again stolen in 2011.

    It was seized by the Manhattan district attorney´s office in 2017 when it resurfaced and was put on sale at an art fair.

    "The international community has evolved enough to realise every artefact must return to its point of origin," said Sepidnameh.

    Watch the video: Μουσειο Αρχαιας Ολυμπιας Museum of Ancient Olympia (July 2022).


    1. Ellis

      I hadn't heard about it yet

    2. Laren

      What phrase ...

    3. Mezikazahn

      He didn't mean it

    4. Ghislain

      I'm sorry, but I think you are wrong. Let's discuss. E-mail me

    5. Senusnet

      great blog! great posts

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