It is imperative, given the current state of regulation of the antiquities trade, for nations of origin to document their existing collections. Unfortunately they are not always willing or able to do that.
From the Christian Science Monitor:
Baghdad – They were earrings that literally could have been worn by a queen. The neo-Assyrian jewelry, 9,000 to 10,000 years old, is Lot 215 in an auction of ancient art and antiquities to be held at Christie’s in New York next week. They are expected to fetch up to $65,000.But Iraqi authorities say they might have belonged to the treasures of Nimrud, excavated by an Iraqi team in 1989, just after the devastating Iran-Iraq War. They have been publicly exhibited only twice – the second time for just one day under the US coalition authorities.“I am 100 percent sure they are from the same tombs from Nimrud,” says Donny George, the former director of the Iraq Museum and now a professor of archaeology at Stony Brook University in New York. “Nothing of this nature has been excavated from it before – I witnessed the excavation. I would say it is 100 percent from there.”
Iraqi authorities have petitioned to stop the sale. “We’re hoping to get them back,” says one official.The auction listing says the elaborate gold hoops were acquired from their previous owner before 1969. As of Tuesday evening, the auction house said they had not been withdrawn from sale. On Wednesday, they were still listed on Christie’s website, which refers potential buyers to a German archaeological text “for a similar pair from a royal tomb at Nimrud.” A UNESCO convention enacted in 1970 made it more difficult to trade in illegal antiquities.
The difficulty here is the amount of evidence Iraqi officials can muster to show the objects were once in an Iraqi state collection. These objects might be 10,000 years old. Where did they come from? Can something like this really be purchased in ‘good faith’? Indications are that the objects came from the excavation of Nimrud by Iraqi archaeologists.