Bureau for Recovering and Investigating Iraqi Looted Antiquities

Shortly after the Gulf War in 1990-1991, an international panel of archaeologists, historians and philologists started working with Iraqi authorities to contain the phenomenon of the illegal trade in antiquities originating from museums and sites in Iraq, an issue that up to that time had never been so serious. The first result of this cooperation with the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage of Iraq was the publication of three papers, respectively by the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq, formerly The American Association for Research in Baghdad (Mc.G. Gibson, A. Mc. Mahon, Lost Heritage: Antiquities Stolen from Iraq’s Regional Museums, Chicago 1992), by the British School of Archaeology in Iraq (H.D. Baker, R. Matthews, J.N. Postgate, Lost Heritage: Antiquities Stolen from Iraq’s Regional Museums, Fascicle 2, London 1993), and by the Institute of Cultural Studies of Ancient Iraq of the Kokushikan University (H. Fujii, K. Oguchi, Lost Heritage: Antiquities Stolen from Iraq’s Regional Museums, Fascicle 3, Tokyo 1996).

Since 2000, the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l’Asia turned to the data collected in these publications with the intent of creating a constantly updatable database of the antiquities looted from regional museums in Iraq. Thanks to the valuable aid provided by the Carabinieri corps’ Artistic Heritage Protection Unit, a database, albeit with limited access, was compiled and put online in the years that followed.

B.R.I.LA. 2000-2002

The first stage of the B.R.I.L.A. project exclusively concerned the objects looted from Iraq’s regional museums (Basra, Kufa, Babylon, Maysam, Qadissiya, Assur, Kirkuk, Dohuk and Suleimaniyeh) up to 2002: as it is well known, Baghdad’s Iraw Museum in fact suffered no damage during or after the first invasion of American troops in the country. Although the search for looted objects was conducted several times and in a very thorough manner, the available data was extremely incomplete: of the approximately 3,500 objects that were declared stolen by Iraqi authorities up to 2002, satisfactory documentation was obtained for about only 730 of them, which was collected in the database. This work was interrupted when the second Gulf War broke out, opening another sad chapter in the history of Iraqi cultural heritage.

B.R.I.LA. 2003

A catalogue compiled by the Carabinieri in September-October 2003 contains a list of objects that were stolen from the Iraq Museum: records referring to the recovered objects (which were actually very few) were subsequently eliminated from the original list.

Another list of objects that were recorded thanks to the experts from the Centro Scavi di Torino in Baghdad’s suq during the summer-autumn of 2003 was prepared in Baghdad in only five days (December 2003) on the Museum’s premises in conditions that, as one may imagine, were quite precarious. Therefore, as it was necessary to decide how to document the recovered objects (mostly cylinder seals and beads) as quickly as possible, it was decided to compile a simple list of the recovered pieces, with the IM number still visible. Pictures, on the other hand, were taken only of those pieces that non longer possessed (and perhaps never possessed) the IM inventory number.

B.R.I.L.A 2004-2005 (B.R.I.L.A Jordan)

Between April 2003 and October 2004, the Jordanian Police and Customs authorities confiscated over 1300 archaeological artefacts mostly coming from Iraq and including, among the others, an ivory chair-back inserted in the "top 30 list of missing Iraqi artefacts" compiled by the FBI. During the training courses for the restorers of the Iraq Museum of Baghdad, held in Amman between December 2004 and February 2005, the archaeologists of the Centro Scavi recorded the above-mentioned artefacts, thus creating the B.R.I.L.A. Jordan database. The recording campaign led to the publication of the volume An endangered cultural heritage: Iraqi antiquities recovered in Jordan (Monografie di Mesopotamia, VII), edited by R. Menegazzi.

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