Illegal & Illicit

How the contents of Iran’s Western Cave were dispersed

Many of the objects, some extant since the first millennium BC, were looted from the site and entered the international market

According to the complaint filed against Hicham Aboutaam, in 1989 archaeologists from the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation visited the Kalmakarreh Cave, known as the Western Cave, in the Luristan province of western Iran. The cave was believed to hold a cache of important artefacts dating from the first millennium BC. From 1989 to 1992, before authorities could conduct a thorough inventory of its contents, the site was reportedly plundered by treasure hunters and villagers. Over 350 objects, including silver bowls, jars, vases, plates and zoomorphic vessels for libations, are believed stolen. A number of items confiscated by Iranian authorities, such as the ones shown here, are now housed in museums in Iran. Many objects purportedly from the hoard have reportedly been smuggled out of Iran ending up in art galleries, museums, auction houses and private collections in Turkey, Japan, France, England, Switzerland and the US. According to John Curtis of the British Museum, the Kalmakarreh cave hoard is of great historical importance. Many objects are inscribed with unique and distinctive texts in Elamite some of which refer to Ampirish, king of Samati, son of Dabala. These suggest that the objects were collected by the rulers of this dynasty around the seventh-sixth centuries BC. These inscriptions which are otherwise entirely unknown are found on a silver beaker and a silver bowl on display in the Louvre in Paris, as well as on objects in the Miho Museum in Japan, although a silver beaker exhibited at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna in 1999 that bears inscriptions in Elamite and Neo-Assyrian has become the subject of some debate suggesting that Western Cave objects are also being faked.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Iran’s lost treasure: the Western Cave hoard'

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 145 March 2004