Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

Britain to return 5,000 ancient Iraqi artefacts

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi enjoys tour of the British Museum

Mustafa Al Kadhimi was in Iraq on the last leg of a tour of Europe. Iraq Prime Minister Media Office
Mustafa Al Kadhimi was in Iraq on the last leg of a tour of Europe. Iraq Prime Minister Media Office

Britain is to return 5,000 ancient artefacts to Iraq by next year, it was announced on Friday, as Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi visited London.

It marks the largest repatriation of Iraqi antiquities and comprises 5,000 pieces of clay tablet that were unearthed by British archaeologists nearly 100 years ago.

They were excavated with a permit issued by the-then Iraqi government from the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq. The tablets were at the British Museum with the permission of the Iraqi authorities.

A rare Sumerian plaque dated around 2400BC, that was smuggled out of Iraq, illegally listed for auction in 2019 and seized by police in London, will also return soon.

Iraq and Britain have joined forces to tackle the illicit trade in antiquities. Iraq Prime Minister Media Office
Iraq and Britain have joined forces to tackle the illicit trade in antiquities. Iraq Prime Minister Media Office

It was taken from an ancient Sumerian temple and depicts a seated male figure. The plaque’s rarity is said to be derived from its quality.

The Iraqi Minister of Culture has allowed it to be displayed at the British Museum for a short time before its repatriation.

On Friday morning, Mr Kadhimi toured the British Museum with director Hartwig Fischer and John Whittingdale, the minister of state for media and data. The prime minister viewed the Mesopotamia gallery, which traces the history of the ancient civilisations that lived thousands of years ago in what is now Iraq.

Mr Fischer said the museum had a long-standing and positive relationship with cultural authorities in Iraq and the embassy in London.

“It was wonderful to be able to celebrate these relationships during this visit. The Museum will continue to work with our Iraqi colleagues to research these important collections, and in the fight against the illicit trade in antiquities,” he said.

Mr Whittingdale said: “It is vital that we preserve and protect the world's cultural heritage for future generations to appreciate and enjoy."

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi (R) visit to the British Museum came as 5,000 pieces of clay tablets are set to return to Iraq. Iraq Prime Minister Media Office
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi (R) visit to the British Museum came as 5,000 pieces of clay tablets are set to return to Iraq. Iraq Prime Minister Media Office

Last year, the British Museum handed over 156 inscribed tablets to Iraq from the early Sumerian era, and in early 2019 UK authorities returned a Babylonian cuneiform stone worth hundreds of thousands of pounds back to Iraq after its seizure in 2012.

Mr Kadhimi’s visit to London saw him meet senior UK officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne.

It was the last leg of a tour of Europe that also saw him visit Germany and France.

Updated: October 28, 2020 03:19 PM

EDITOR'S PICKS
THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
Sign up to our daily email