The Netherlands is cooperating in the return of archaeological objects to Iraq
Today Arjen Uijterlinde, Ambassador for International Cultural Cooperation of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Barbara Siregar, Director of the Information and Heritage Inspectorate, are returning seven archaeological objects to the Iraqi ambassador, Mr Hisham Al Alawi. The objects came to light when they were offered to an auction house by a Dutch private collector. The Information and Heritage Inspectorate began an investigation after receiving a report from a concerned individual. The Dutch collector is voluntarily giving up possession of the objects so that they can be returned to Iraq.
The foundation cones, a clay tablet and two rare figurines are all Mesopotamian. An investigation by the Information and Heritage Inspectorate and an expert from the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities confirmed that the objects came from Iraq. The Iraqi government contributed to this investigation and requested the Dutch government to return the objects. The private collector who gave up the items was not aware of their exact origin, and now wants to see them given back to Iraq. All the objects are protected under Iraqi cultural heritage legislation, and all are listed on the International Council of Museums’ red lists. These lists give examples of objects that are vulnerable to theft, plundering and illegal export from their countries of origin.
Foundation cones and Halaf figurine
Foundation cones are large clay cones that were placed in the walls of buildings or buried in the foundations of temples. They were inscribed with texts in cuneiform script, one of the world’s earliest writing systems. This means that they are of cultural and historical significance. The same can be said for the clay tablet. The two figurines are considerably older, and also rarer. One of them is a Halaf figurine representing the mother goddess, a symbol of fertility, and was used in sacrifice rituals. The other is a figurine of a ram and was used as an amulet or a stamp or seal.
Mesopotamia was the cradle of modern civilisation. This is what makes Iraq's cultural heritage so important for the entire world. Civilisation in the region dates back to 6000 BC and produced a wide range of cultural expressions. Remnants of this rich culture have found their way to every part of the world. This is partly due to the conflicts that have ravaged Iraq and the wider region since 1990. During these wars, museums, libraries and excavations have been plundered or destroyed. Many objects of cultural heritage have been smuggled out of the country and, through various routes, have found their way onto the black market.
Ban on trade in Iraqi heritage
The United Nations Security Council has adopted a system of sanctions to protect Iraq’s cultural heritage, and these have been implemented in European law. They prohibit trade in objects of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific and religious importance that Iraq has designated as protected.
The Information and Heritage Inspectorate is one of the agencies that is monitoring compliance with the national sanction measures and works closely with the customs authorities, the police, the Public Prosecution Service, experts and international organisations. More information about the protection of cultural heritage can be found on the Inspectorate’s website. The Minister of Foreign Affairs adopts the sanction measures in consultation with other ministers and coordinates implementation of these measures. The return of these seven objects is taking place under the Iraq Sanctions Order 2004 II.