British Museum to return looted artifacts to Iraq, Afghanistan

British Museum on Monday announced it will return looted artifacts to their countries of origin — Iraq and Afghanistan — after they were illegally exported to the UK.
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ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) — British Museum on Monday announced it will return looted artifacts to their countries of origin — Iraq and Afghanistan — after they were illegally exported to the UK.

Among the artifacts set to be returned to Iraq are dozens of tablets bearing cuneiform, which is one of the earliest systems of writing, according to news outlet The Independent.

The 154 Mesopotamian texts written on clay in cuneiform scripts were confiscated in the UK in Feb. 2011. Almost all of the items date back to 1800 – 2100 BC and belong to the Ur II and Old Babylonian dynasties.

Ancient tablets bearing cuneiform seized in the UK to be returned to Iraq. (Photo: Trustees of the British Museum)
Ancient tablets bearing cuneiform seized in the UK to be returned to Iraq. (Photo: Trustees of the British Museum)

The artifacts will be sent back to the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq after a long investigation by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The British Museum is also working with border forces and other agencies to return items which had been confiscated during conflict periods in the countries of origin.

The museum also stated they are planning to return a number of Buddhist sculptures originally and illegally brought from Afghanistan through Pakistan’s Peshawar city before being seized in London’s Heathrow Airport in Sep. 2002.

“A group of nine heads sculptured in clay feature a portrayal of Buddha, the turbaned heads of meditating bodhisattvas, the bald head of a monk and three larger heads, including one possibly depicting Vajrapani – the spiritual guide of Buddha,” The Independent reported, citing the British Museum.

Buddhist heads looted from Afghanistan during post 9/11 conflict. (Photo: Trustees of the British Museum)
Buddhist heads looted from Afghanistan during post 9/11 conflict. (Photo: Trustees of the British Museum)

The items date back between the fourth and sixth centuries AD. They would be set on temporary display in London before being sent back to the National Museum of Afghanistan.

“War, conflict, climate change, globalisation, poverty and migration all play a part in the threats to cultural heritage,” said Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum.

“The museum adopts a systematic approach, working with many colleagues across the world to help preserve, train, conserve, document and understand material culture.”

“Sadly, this work is more essential now than ever and the museum will continue and increase its efforts to assist colleagues globally in the preservation and celebration of their cultural heritage.”

The museum is also working with other antiquities authorities and agencies on a project called Circulating Artifacts to identify and return trafficked artifacts back to Egypt and Sudan.

British authorities over the past year have seized about 700 illegal artifacts looted from Egypt and Sudan, according to the museum.

Editing by Nadia Riva