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Antiquities Coalition Re-releases Updated “Cultural Piracy: Mapping Antiquities Seizures Around the Globe”

September 23, 2021

Following the return of 17,000 looted antiquities to Iraq, the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet has been repatriated as of September 23. 

WASHINGTON, DC (September 23, 2021) — Following a rise in internal conflict and the 2003 US incursion in Iraq, looting and trafficking of art and antiquities in Iraq skyrocketed. However, after nearly two decades of labor, the Antiquities Coalition celebrates the successful repatriation of nearly 17,000 artifacts to their rightful home. 

The Iraqi culture minister Hassan Nazim called the restitution “unprecedented” and “the largest return of antiquities to Iraq.” Among the artifacts, most of which are 4000 year old Sumerian objects, was a rare tablet in cuneiform script, inscribed with a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh, here. The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet has officially been repatriated to Iraq as of today, September 23, marking an exceptional restitution that will allow for a deeper cultivation of connections between Iraq’s people and the nation’s history. 

The scale of theft and racketeering evidenced by this momentous repatriation is not an isolated incident. To give a sense of the extent of the global scale of the problem, as well as to commend the successful seizures of these stolen objects by authorities worldwide, the Antiquities Coalition has updated this comprehensive map: “Cultural Piracy: Mapping Antiquities Seizures Around the Globe”

Nearly $65 Million in Illicit Artifacts Seized Since 2014 From the Middle East and North Africa

The Antiquities Coalition has reviewed recent publicly available reports of art and antiquities seizures to update “Cultural Piracy: Mapping Antiquity Seizures Around the Globe.” This tool provides a geographic representation of the illicit antiquities trade stemming from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region by plotting reported cultural property seizures since 2014. These news reports are from English, Arabic, and Turkish-language media sources. In total, the map plots 270 seizures and 230,357 individual objects.

Key Findings:

  • Total reported value of $63,934,933.
  • Actual value likely much higher given that just 10% of objects had reported values.
  • Highest valued seizure is $13 million worth of manuscripts and statues from Iraq.
  • The United States accounts for the majority of seizures, with France, Germany, and Spain following.

“The Antiquities Coalition hopes that this map will help underline the patterns in the illicit trade and further reinforce international collaborations to curb it,” says Deborah Lehr, Chairman of the Antiquities Coalition. “Clearly, there are locations in which commendable efforts are succeeding in thwarting this trade.” Nevertheless, there is an obvious need for intergovernmental cooperation: illicit trade is a cross-border issue that requires a multinational response.

To explore this interactive map, click here.