Posts Tagged ‘British Museum’


Photos: British Museum
Tello in Iraq is the site of one of the oldest cities on earth. After the fall of Saddam, looted treasures ended up in London and, thanks to archaeological detective work, have been returned. Today the site is protected by both Iraqi archaeological police and a local tribe.

When you think something is lost forever, hold on to hope. If looted archaeological fragments that have been smuggled to another country can be identified and returned, you can find the family heirloom you put in a too-safe place. You can find the delight you once took in simple things back when you were too young to read the news.

Maev Kennedy reported for the Guardian in August, “A collection of 5,000-year-old antiquities looted from a site in Iraq in 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and then seized by the Metropolitan police from a dealer in London, will be returned to Baghdad this week.

“It comes after experts at the British Museum identified not just the site they came from but the temple wall they were stolen from.

The eight small pieces had no documentation of any kind to help the police, but the museum experts could literally read their origin.

“They included cone-shaped ceramics with cuneiform inscriptions identifying the site as Tello, ancient Girsu in southern Iraq, one of the oldest cities on earth recorded in the earliest form of true written language.

“The inscriptions named the Sumerian king who had them made almost 5,000 years ago, the god they were dedicated to, and the temple. And by an extraordinary coincidence the museum had an archaeologist, Sebastian Rey, leading a team of Iraqi archaeologists at the site, uncovering the holes in the mudbrick walls of the temple they were torn from, and the broken pieces the looters had discarded. …

“Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali [said] the protection of antiquities was an international responsibility and praised the British Museum and its staff ‘for their exceptional efforts in the process of identifying and returning looted antiquities to Iraq.’ …

“St John Simpson, the assistant keeper at the Middle East department of the museum, said: ‘Uniquely we could trace them not just to the site but to within inches of where they were stolen from. This is a very happy outcome, nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.’ …

“The site of the Eninnu temple at Tello is now protected, not just by the reformed Iraqi archaeological police, but by a local tribe. …

“With no apparent way of tracing their origin, they sat in police stores until some of the antiquities cold cases were reopened with the reforming of the Met’s art and antiquities squad, and brought to the museum earlier this year. …

“The museum experts hope their methodology could be used to create maps of specific sites and types of antiquities, making the work of looters much more difficult.”

More at the Guardian, here. Wouldn’t you like to reach across time and tell the craftsman of the sweet little bull below that people in 2018 are still enjoying it?

Treasures looted from the site of an ancient city in Iraq include a tiny marble amulet of a bull.


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What could be more likely to generate Deep Thoughts than finding 800,000-year-old footprints on the beach? The footprint Robinson Crusoe found may have had more immediate application to his daily life, but this could also stir the imagination.

In case you missed the story, here is  Sudeshna Chowdhury’s version at the Christian Science Monitor.

“The earliest known humans in northern Europe have left evidence of their existence on an English beach, in the form of footprints.

“A team of scientists from the British Museum, Britain’s Natural History Museum, and Queen Mary University of London have discovered a series of 800,000-year-old footprints left by early humans in the ancient estuary muds at the Happisburgh site, an excavation site known for preservation of sediments containing ancient flora and fauna, in Britain’s Norfolk Coast.

“Scientists spotted at least 12 clear footprints, Nick Ashton, a curator at the British Museum, told the Monitor.

” ‘At first we weren’t sure what we were seeing,’ says Dr. Ashton, ‘but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, perhaps human footprints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible before the sea eroded it away.’ ” More here.

I think these footprints call for a poem. Send me one? Even a haiku would be lovely.

Update 2/12/14
We who still know fear
Thousands of years on, would keep
Your print from the tide.

Photo:  Martin Bates
Area A at Happisburgh with detail of footprint surface. Scientists discovered a series of 800,000-year-old footprints left by early humans in Norfolk Coast, UK


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