UK returns looted Nebuchadnezzar boundary stone to Iraq

A 3,000-year-old boundary stone from Babylonia was returned to Iraq in an official ceremony on Tuesday after seven years of investigation and legal wrangling. It’s not clear when the object was stolen — experts believe it was looted during the chaos of the Iraq War around 15 years ago. It surfaced in 2012 when the importer attempted to smuggle the piece into Britain with fake paperwork. The stone arrived at Heathrow airport in May 2012. The customs declaration claimed it was a carved stone made in Turkey worth $330. When a UK Border Force officer opened the box, he recognized the stone was no Turkish fake and that the claimed origin in the declaration had to be fraudulent.

Experts at the British Museum quickly identified it from the copious cuneiform inscriptions as a 12th century B.C. kudurru, a ceremonial boundary stone recording a land grant from the king. There are only 200 known surviving examples of kudurrus, and this one is a stand-out. It describes a gift of land from Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I to one of his subjects in recognition of his distinguished service. The inscription indicates the stone came from Nippur, an ancient Sumerian city in what is now southern Iraq that was restored and expanded by Babylonian monarchs. Nippur suffered extensive looting in 2003 which is when experts believe the kudurru was stolen.

One side of the stone is covered in images depicting the gods Enlil and Marduk. The other side is inscribed with cuneiform text. In addition to recording the land grant, the text describes an enormously significant period of Babylonian history. It tells of how at the end of the preceding dynasty, Elamite forces had invaded the kingdom, looted the temples and carried away the statue of the god Marduk leaving Babylon bereft not just of the visual representation of the god, but of the protection of the god himself.

Enlil, father of the gods, created Nebuchadnezzar to avenge the outrage done to the Babylonians. The great king invaded Elam, defeated its army and reclaimed the statue of Marduk. He returned it to the temple and all was right with the world again.

“It is such an important moment in Babylonian history. Forever after the Babylonians told stories about this great, brave king who brought Marduk back, and in response they created the Babylonian epic of creation, which tells about how Marduk was appointed to defeat the forces of chaos and to put order into the universe. So, every spring at the new year festival they recite this epic of creation.”

[British Museum curator Jonathan] Taylor said the object also carried “terrible curses” for anyone trying to claim the land or damage the tablet.

“The gift is designed to last forever and there are a list of curses or protective formulas so if anyone should dispute that the gift was made or if they try and hide it, bury it in the dirt, try to destroy it with fire, smash it or get somebody who does not know any better to do it on their behalf, then the gods will curse them in a variety of really horrible ways. So, it is to protect forever this gift in recognition of this act of bravery,” said Taylor.

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2 Comments »

Comment by SeredW
2019-03-21 06:48:44

ISIS is all but defeated in Syria but the region remains highly unstable. I hope this artefact will not be affected by further unrest, but I have to admit I’m not very hopeful for the long term stability of that region.

 
Comment by Karlsdottir
2019-03-21 10:22:21

Well done. Loads more of the regions’s heritage waiting to come home. :facepalm:

 
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