Syria returned 700 antiquities to Iraq on Wednesday, undoing in some small measure the theft and looting which has taken place since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Here’s an excerpt of the AP story:
The head of the Syrian Antiquities Department, Bassam Jamous, said some of the objects were from the Bronze Age and early Islamic era.
The treasures were returned during a ceremony at the Syrian National Museum attended by senior Syrian officials and the Iraqi state minister for tourism and antiquities affairs, Mohammad Abbas al-Oraibi.
Jamous did not specify the value of the artifacts or single out the most important pieces, but clay jars, coins, daggers and what appeared to be a large trunk were displayed at the ceremony.
Syrian Culture Minister Riyadh Nassan Agha also said a “priceless Iraqi piece” of important historical value had been seized two weeks ago by Syrian customs officers. He gave no details, saying only that it would be returned to Iraq later after experts examined it.
AFP has a wire story as well, estimating that 32,000 objects were looted from 12,000 archaeological sites. Those numbers, though they are just estimates, speak for themselves. Given that Syria has returned 700 objects, this begs the question: how many more objects have been transported out of Iraq and have not been seized or recovered. I imagine many objects, especially the most valuable ones, are being hidden in anticipation of sales in the distant future, much as art seized or confiscated by the Nazis is still appearing.
As an indication of how serious the Iraq government considers those who are convicted of smuggling antiquities, despite overcrowding in Iraqi prisons, individuals detained for antiquities-related offenses were not released along with a number of other detainees under a law passed in February by the Iraqi government to ease prison populations. Many may remember that last month Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos argued insurgents may be using the antiquities trade to fund their activities.