Stolen Nimrud earrings returned to Iraq

The 3,000-year-old neo-Assyrian gold earrings stolen from Iraq in the post-invasion chaos and almost sold by Christie’s 2 years ago have been returned to Iraq.

Christie’s claimed when they put up for sale that they were bought in 1969 and “similar” to the 8 identical pairs of elaborate gold earrings found in 1988 in the royal tombs at Nimrud, the ancient capital of Assyria. Iraqi officials spotted them in the catalogue and reported them to Interpol, stopping the sale.

Donny George, the former director of the Iraq Museum who was on the Nimrud excavation and who personally photographed the treasures, recognized the earrings as from Nimrud. He pointed out that the gold work at Nimrud was exceptional and unique, that there was no such thing as a “similar” piece.

Neo-Assyrian gold earringsThe earrings were among the 613 items of jewellery and funeral ornaments that make up the Treasure, found in 1988 in two previously unexplored burial chambers, belonging to a ninth-century BC queen and princess, in the ancient city of Nimrud.

Sent to the central bank at the time of the first Gulf War in 1991, the Treasure has hardly ever been on show. But it was once described by an American investigator seeking to recover lost Iraqi artefacts as making the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun “look like Walmart”.

The treasure remained in the vault of the central for 20 years, surviving the 1990 Gulf War, depredations of Saddam Hussein’s son Qusay (he helped himself to almost a billion dollars in cash plus hundreds of gold bars from the bank), Shock and Awe, looters trying to break into it with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s, and a major flood. A team of Iraqi, US and British archaeologists, plus an awesome reservist Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos who in civilian life is a New York prosecutor with a classics degree along with his legal one, were able to rescue the Nimrud treasure from the flood.

At the time they thought it was fully accounted for, but somewhere between the summer of 2003 and winter of 2008, those earrings migrated out of Iraq into Christie’s hot little ask-no-questions hands. Even now Christie’s refuses to say who the seller was or even comment on the story at all. New York Customs enforcement will only say that no legal action has been taken.

5 thoughts on “Stolen Nimrud earrings returned to Iraq

  1. The Iraq Museum website has a great photo gallery of the crates in the basement of the bank being reopened. There are incidentally pictures of various of the Nimrud treasures.

    The photographer, Sergeant First Class Noreen Feeney, took the pictures for the Culture Ministry. She left some interesting comments on my blog describing her experience: here and here.

  2. Wow, Kevin I found you again. I can’t believe what I’m reading about Christie’s. I also can’t believe that Customs won’t do anything about it. Soldiers got booted out of the army and might still be in jail for trying to bring this kind of stuff home. Isn’t there pictures of these very earrings in my collection? I don’t have the originals anymore. They were blown up in a convoy attack when I went back to Iraq in 2005. The museum has the only copies.

    1. I’ve never seen the important auction houses be targets of law enforcement. Customs seems to prefer to cut deals than to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

      Thank you for your comment from the thick of things, and thank you for taking a stand to protect Iraq’s cultural patriony. :thanks:

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