Thirteen archeological objects from the ancient civilization of Mesopotamia, dated from 2350 BC to 1700 BC and taken illegally from Iraq, were seized on 2 October, 2012 by the French central office for the fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods (OCBC).
The objects seized, displayed during the restitution ceremony on 3 December at the Iraqi Embassy in Paris, and the Emergency Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk
The seized objects, two cones and some tablets of clay with cuneiform writing were identified by of OCBC investigators through an auction website due to their likely Iraqi origins. Import and trade in cultural goods from this country is forbidden within the European Union, due to the high probability that the objects have been trafficked illicitly. In addition, this type of archaeological object is featured in the Emergency Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk.
On 16 October, photographs of these objects were displayed by a researcher from the Department of Sumerian antiquities at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). This led to the objects being confirmed as authentic and coming from a lowland area of Iraq whose archeological sites had suffered extensive looting in the last 10 years. Sellers and dealers in meteorites, fossils and archeological objects have been remanded in custody and will be investigated with a view to finding other objects banned from trade within the European Union.
The seized objects were returned to Iraq on 3 December, 2012 during a ceremony held in the Iraqi Embassy in Paris, in the presence of his Excellency the Ambassador of Iraq, representatives from the OCBC, the French Ministry of Culture and ICOM.
“This case demonstrates perfectly the fruitful international cooperation that exists in terms of fighting illicit traffic in cultural goods,” commented Julien Anfruns, ICOM Director General. “ICOM Red Lists are distributed globally and used as reference tools by heritage professionals, INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, and the different Police and customs services worldwide in their investigations. Red Lists are useful not only in emergency situations but also in the long term, whenever these objects appear on the market for sale years after looting took place, as we have witnessed in this seizure, carried out about 10 years after the publication of the Iraqi List.”