Monday, July 20, 2015

U.S. returns captured looted artifacts to Iraq

ARAMAIC WATCH: Artifacts looted during the Iraq invasion turned up in the house of an Islamic State leader (Loveday Morris, Washington Post).
BAGHDAD — The United States handed over more than 400 ancient artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday, part of ongoing efforts to repatriate the country’s looted heritage. But this latest batch has a particularly intriguing back story — the antiquities were seized by U.S. Special Operations forces members as they raided the house of a leader of the Islamic State militant group.

The nighttime operation to capture the militant took place in eastern Syria in May, and the Delta Force troops did not come back with their prize. It was their first such ground mission in the country, and their main target, a man known as Abu Sayyaf who ran oil operations for the Islamic State in the area, was killed in an ensuing firefight.

But as the commandos scoured the compound for documents and laptops that could provide intelligence about the organization, they stumbled across artifacts thought to be dating back as far as 4,000 years.

Among them was a religious text written in Aramaic, the ancient Semitic language said to have been spoken by Jesus. An official at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad said Wednesday that it was about 500 years old but has not yet been properly dated. (Museum officials also said that, as with many of the items found, they could not be sure whether the text was of Syrian or Iraqi origin.)

There were hundreds of coins — some of them gold from the Abbassid era, others silver pieces from the Umayyad period. There were stone cylindrical seals from the ancient city of Nimrud and fragments of pottery.

But concern has been raised that not all of the artifacts are genuine. As for the Aramaic text, it is entirely possible that an ISIS leader got his hands on a 500-year-old Aramaic (likely Syriac) manuscript. Such things are not hard to come by. But I would need to see good photos to be able to say anything about the text with any confidence. A recent related post is here. And this post from 2006 shows that the problem has been around since long before ISIS turned up.