FBI Returns Eight Ancient Stone Seals Looted From Iraq
thousand years ago, the ancient Mesopotamians came up with
a clever way to protect their valuables from theft and fraud.
small, cylinder-shaped stones and carved intricate, one-of-a-kind designs
into them. The stones—when rolled across wax or soft
clay that later hardened—formed an imprint or "signature" that
marked a piece of property and uniquely identified its owner.
later, the tables have turned. The same cylinder seals that
once helped safeguard ancient valuables are now treasures in their
own right—and have been targeted by thieves.
ago, the looting of these seals and other cultural artifacts reached
epic proportions in Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein. When
we were called on to assist, we were ready. We sent agents to Iraq
to help with criminal investigations. We issued global police alerts
on the potential sale of stolen Iraqi art and artifacts on both the
open and black markets. And we publicized the stolen treasures at fbi.gov!
In the meantime,
we kept our eyes open in case any of these stolen treasures showed
up in the U.S. Recently, we made our first recovery of looted
Iraqi artifacts in this country.
it happened: In late 2003, a U.S. Marine serving in Iraq bought
eight stone seals from a trinket vendor for several hundred dollars.
He was struck by their designs and wondered if they were important
historic artifacts. So when he got back to the U.S., he took them to
a university archaeologist, who quickly verified their authenticity
and cultural value.
then did the right thing: he came to us. After doing the necessary
legwork, our agents in Philadelphia contacted the Iraqi authorities
with the news.
in a ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology
and Anthropology, we officially returned the seals to Said Ahmad, Minister
of Iraq's Mission to the U.N. To help educate the public on
the looting of cultural objects worldwide, the Iraqi government has
agreed to display the seals at the University museum for several months
before they are returned home.
At the ceremony,
the FBI also unveiled its new Art Crime Team, a group of eight
agents nationwide who will serve as regional experts and points of
contact for global art theft investigations. Stay tuned for a full
story in the days to come!
Art Theft Program | Press
Release | Interpol
Stolen Works of Art website
of recovered stone seals and their imprints courtesy of Lynn Grant,
of Pennsylvania Museum.