First Published: 2003-09-24

 
'Mona Lisa' back to Iraq's National Museam
 

Prized 5,000-year-old Warka Mask returns home in excellent condition after being looted after Saddam's fall.

 

Middle East Online

By Luke Hunt - BAGHDAD

It is also known as the 'Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia'

Iraqi's most cherished antiquity, the 5,000-year-old Warka Mask, returned home Tuesday safe and sound after being looted during the anarchy that accompanied Saddam Hussein's fall in April.

Captain Vance Kuhner said the mask was found after an intensive search by US troops and Iraqi police which led them to a farm just north of Baghdad where it was discovered buried under six inches (15 centimetres) of dirt.

"A tip-off came to the museum, we were given an address that led us to a juvenile, then an older man and eventually the culprit. Then it took a week of negotiations," Kuhner, from the 519th Military Police Battalion, said.

"It's pretty much untouched. We believe it changed hands several times after its theft. It is still in excellent condition."

Also known as the "Mona Lisa of Mesopotamia," the 20-centimetre (eight-inch) high limestone sculpture, dating from 3,100 BC, depicts the head of a woman and was returned to Iraq's National Museum in a formal handover.

It was fashioned in the southern city of Warka during the Sumerian period, and was among the five most precious pieces still missing since the museum was ransacked after the April 9 fall of Saddam.

The recovery was praised by Iraq's culture minister Mufid Mohammad Jawad al-Jazairi, who proudly held the mask and posed for photographers.

"Now it is very important that this work continues," he said. "We hope to recover all the stolen pieces from around the region and we hope from now on the Iraqi people will protect their heritage."

Historians believe the mask, unearthed by a German expedition in 1938, most likely represents the goddess Inanna, or one of her priestesses.

It is also known as the Lady of Uruk or the Warka Head.

Jaber Khalil Ibrahim, Iraq's director general of antiquities, said about 13,000 pieces are still to be found, 32 of them of great value out of 15,000 pieces stolen from the collection of 170,000 artifacts.

Kuhner, a reservist and prosecutor from New York, said his team would focus on the list of top 30 missing artifacts issued by the US Customs Department in the wake of recent successes.

This included the discovery of two 12th century swords, found in a Baghdad flower shop. One apparently belonged to Salahadin, the legendary Islamic warrior.

Fifteen cylindrical stamps for wax seals dating to the second and third centuries have also been recovered.

"Every time we receive a tip we immediately dispatch two teams of US troops and two teams of Iraqis to investigate," Kuhner said, adding techniques he developed as a New York prosecutor had helped in recovering the lost treasures.

Ibrahim also appealed to countries outside of Iraq to crack down on thieves and ensure that any antiquities belonging to Iraq are sent back if found.

He said the return of the Warka Mask was proof that efforts to recover the stolen property from Iraq's museums were effective.

 

Yemen warring parties meet after long pause

Tunisia's Ennahda reelects Ghannouchi as party chief

Egypt enlists submersible to search for EgyptAir crash clues

Iraq launches military operation to retake Fallujah

Abu Dhabi oil giant cuts thousands of jobs

Erdogan advisor says Turkey could suspend EU deals

Oil prices dip as Iran says no to output freeze

Skepticism ahead of Istanbul humanitarian summit

Sudan steps up pressure for exit of Darfur peacekeepers

UN Palestinian agency says half its schools hit by conflict

Bombs kill more than 120 in Syria regime strongholds

Netanyahu rejects French peace initiative

Gunmen kill 8 worshipers in Darfur

India in deal to turn Iran port into trade hub

Turkey's incoming PM working on new cabinet

Israel lifts ban on Gaza cement deliveries

At least 20 dead in Yemen suicide bombing

Syria rebels give truce brokers 48 hours to end regime offensive

Deadly bombings rock northeast Syria as US commander visits

Ex- government minister dies in Libya ISIS clashes

Green Zone breach may set stage for more violence in Iraq

‘Last chance’ to save Yemen peace talks

Egypt deploys submarine in search for clues in plane crash

Erdogan loyalist set to be Turkey PM

Attempt to disperse protesters turns deadly in Iraq

EgyptAir crash fuels theories

Tunisia Islamist party moves to shed ‘political Islam’ label

US swiftly rejects Russia proposal for Syria joint airstrikes

Coalition leaflets advise residents to flee Raqa

Turkey parliament adopts contentious immunity bill

Turkish parliament adopts first clause of controversial immunity bill

Israel's defense minister resigns

EgyptAir plane wreckage found at sea

US adds three IS branches to terror list

One of Tunisia's 'most dangerous' terrorists killed

Turkish military helicopter may have been shot down

Tunisia's Ennahda to separate politics from Islamic activity

Israel set to form extreme right-wing government

Israel closing in on offshore gas deal

Sudan's Bashir applies for U.S. visa

Tunisia says war against terrorists has cost $4 billion

Iraq recaptures Rutba from ISIS

EgyptAir flight from Paris to Cairo crashes over Mediterranean

Turkey names new PM

Possible causes of EgyptAir crash