Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Future of the Gold Vessel from Ur (or Troy?) Remains Uncertain

Earlier I discussed the case of a gold vessel from Iraq that was offered for sale by ancient coin auction house Hirsch Nachfolger in 2005 and seized by German officials after it was spotted ("The Curious Case of a Gold Vessel from Ur"). The case has received less press in English speaking media than in Germany, but has been summarized and commented upon by some others in the blogosphere: "Gold Vessel from Ur - or is that Troy?" (Gill); "Mainz and the Gold Vessel" (Gill); "Why do Antiquities from Iraq Continue to Surface on the Market?" (Gill); "What is Münzhandlung Hirsch going to do with the Ur-Troy Goldgefäß?" (Barford).

Michael-Müller Karpe, an authority on ancient metalwork from Mesopotamia, examined the vessel and determined it was likely looted from a royal tomb in or near Ur. Münzhandlung Hirsch Nachfolger claims the vessel is from Troy. Müller-Karpe had been retaining the vessel at the request of the Iraqi embassy in Berlin, but the vessel has now been turned over again to German authorities and its future remains uncertain.

Setback for Iraq as Ancient Gold Vial Seized in Germany

Berlin - In a setback for Iraqi efforts to claim a tiny ancient gold vial, the item has been sent to a valuer in line with a German court order, a lawyer said Tuesday. Both a Munich auctioneer and the Iraqi government claim the dented little container. A German archaeology museum, which has taken Iraq's side, believes the item is 4,500 years old and comes from ancient Mesopotamia.

The attorney representing Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger, the Munich auction company, said the museum had surrendered the item after a stalemate of many weeks.

The auctioneer hopes that a Berlin valuer will decide the mystery item is not Mesopotamian, but Roman, allowing it to go back on sale. It was seized in 2005, halting an earlier auction.

Customs agents appointed by a tax court in Munich picked up the plain vial, which is 35 millimetres high, on Monday from the Roman and Germanic Museum in Mainz.

Iraq's ambassador to Berlin had hoped the museum would safeguard the vial until its provenance and value are clear.

But the museum director decided to surrender the item, 3sat television reported. Archaeologist Michael Mueller-Karpe of the Mainz museum believes the object was looted from a royal grave in Iraq.

(Photo from Deutsche Welle)