Smuggled Babylonian relic to be handed back to Iraq

Border official was suspicious after spotting piece worth hundreds of thousands of pounds

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 9, 2003 Iraqis watch a statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein falling in Baghdad's al-Fardous (paradise) square.
On April 9, 2003, the US-led coalition overthrew Saddam Hussein. Fifteen years after the invasion, life in Iraq has been transformed as sectarian clashes and jihadist attacks have divided families and killed tens of thousands of people, leaving behind wounds that have yet to heal and a lagging economy. / AFP PHOTO / Patrick BAZ
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A Babylonian treasure will be handed back to Iraq later this month after UK border officers foiled an attempt to smuggle it through Heathrow Airport.

The 30cm-high inscribed stone, dating back more than 3,000 years, was one section of a larger antiquity that is believed to have been looted from southern Iraq.

The stone is a rare kudurru, an official document with cuneiform writing drawn up on the instructions of the king to record lands handed to individuals, according to UK newspaper The Guardian. It is believed to date from the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar I (1126-1103 BC).

The newspaper reported that a border official became suspicious after the cargo was described as a “carved stone for home decoration” that was made in Turkey. The stone was believed to have been once located at a temple.

"Importantly, this kudurru has been neither previously recorded nor published and must therefore come from illicit digging at a site in southern Iraq," Dr St John Simpson, a senior curator at the British Museum, told The Guardian.

The return of the kudurru is part of a broader effort by officials to return antiquities looted in the last decade of the rule of Saddam Hussein and its chaotic aftermath.

Last year, customs officers handed back thousands of ancient artefacts looted from what is believed to be a lost Sumerian city after they were smuggled into the US.