Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Curious Case of a Gold Vessel from Ur

Last Wednesday, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung carried a story entitled "Deutsch-irkaischer Archäologenkrimi / Aus Ur oder aus Troja? Ein Goldgefäß macht derzeit den Behörden Probleme. Es soll von Raubgrabungen aus dem Irak stammen. Bagdad hat Strafanzeige gegen einen deutschen Händler gestellt" (by D. Gerlach, 29.6.2009, pp. 1,3) about a gold vessel looted from Ur that was offered by a German auction house. A slightly more condensed article in English also summarizes the story ("Mesopotamian Vase Sheds Light on Germany's Artefacts Trade," Deutsche Welle, 30.6.2009).

The vase was first spotted for sale in 2005 at the German ancient coin auction house Hirsch Nachfolger, when it was then seized by authorities and handed over to Michael Müller-Karpe at the Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum in Mainz for an expert opinion. Müller-Karpe, an archaeologist who works on material from the region and a specialist in metalwork, concluded that it was likely looted from the royal cemetery at Ur where many similar vessels have been found. Looting in Iraq has dramatically increased since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Customs officials have now asked Müller-Karpe to return the vase to them, but has refused stating that the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin has asked him not to return it to customs. Iraqi officials have warned that anyone who helps or participates in the sale would be liable to up to five years imprisonment in Iraq. Münzhandlung Hirsch Nachfolger claims the vessel comes from Troy.

(Photo from Deutsche Welle)