An Iraqi soldier walks past ancient ruins of Nimrud after the city was recaptured from ISIS in 2016. File photo: Safin Hamed/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Iraqi government is in contact with New York authorities about a piece of Iraqi history that will go up for auction next week.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has prepared a report indicating that the 3,000-year-old Assyrian relief belongs to Iraq and “is under the protection of Iraqi Antiquities Law,” ministry spokesperson Ahmed Mahjoob stated.
Baghdad’s embassy in Washington is following up on the case with the New York prosecutor and the US government, he added.
The piece in question is a more than 2-metre-high stone relief from the ancient city of Nimrud and is “the finest example of Assyrian art to come to market in decades,” said Christie’s auction house.
The carving was commissioned by Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II whose reign spanned parts of modern-day Iraq and Syria from 883 to 859 BC. The panel is one of 400 that were carved for his palace and can now be found in museums around the world.
“These huge slabs of gypsum, sculpted in relief, were designed to impress and overwhelm,” said the head of international antiquities for the auction house, G. Max Bernheimer. “Every aspect was related to the strength and power of the king.”
The palace was unearthed by British archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard. An American missionary, Henri Byron Haskell, acquired the panel from Layard in 1859, according to Christie’s.
The panel was kept at the Virginia Theological Seminary and is being sold to raise money for a scholarship fund.
While the item in question left Iraq over 150 years ago, the issue of preserving Iraq’s history inside the country was spotlighted when ISIS destroyed many Syrian and Iraqi heritage sites and flooded the black market with ancient artifacts.
The problem also runs deep in the Kurdistan Region. Just this week, the tomb of a sheikh in Dukan was dug up by looters searching for treasure.
Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “is continuously in touch to stop the sale of this important cultural heritage of Iraq,” the spokesperson said.
The piece will be sold at auction on October 31