The first major looted Iraqi antiquity found outside the country has been recovered in New York. The statue of King Entemena, was handed over to Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki in Washington, DC on 25 July.
We can reveal that it is proposed to temporarily exhibit the Entemena sculpture at the Pennsylvania University Museum, in Philadelphia, which has an important collection of Mesopotamian antiquities. The Iraqi authorities are keen on the idea of displaying it outside the country until security conditions improve in Baghdad, in order to draw attention to the efforts to recover looted museum objects.
The 76-centimetre statue, weighing 136 kilograms, was among the most important antiquities seized from the galleries of the National Museum in April 2003. It is currently being stored in the Iraqi embassy in Washington, DC.
Dr Donny George, head of the Iraqi antiquities service until his surprise resignation last month, told The Art Newspaper that he had been approached earlier this year by an intermediary who was offering the sculpture. At this point it was apparently still in Iraq. He was asked to pay $50-$100,000, and responded that this could not be done until the antiquity was back in the museum, and at that point he would do his best to solicit government funds.
This failed to satisfy those holding the sculpture, and it was then apparently smuggled out and sent to Syria. According a report in The New York Times, international antiquities dealer Hicham Aboutaam was approached this spring on a visit to Lebanon, and shown a photograph. After having realised that the work had been looted, he declined to buy it and news reached the American authorities. Contacts were made with an Iraqi businessman in the construction business in Europe, who brokered the eventual deal.
Working with Interpol, the US Department of Homeland Security located the sculpture last May. It was then shipped from Syria to America, where it was seized from a warehouse in Queens. The sculpture was authenticated on 5 June. The diorite stone statue has long been headless, but since the looting it has suffered a number of chips, possibly as a result of being rolled down the museum stairs from the first-floor Sumerian Hall.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Star display of Baghdad Museum is recovered in New York'