Scores of antiquities seized; smugglers arrested

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By Basem al-Rilabi

Azzaman, October 22, 2012

Iraqi police have confiscated scores of artifacts and arrested two smugglers in the southern Province of Dhiqar.

The pieces include statues and coins from different periods of Iraq’s ancient history.

“Interior Ministry forces in coordination with the Iraqi army seized 64 archaeological pieces as well as 114 bronze coins in a district of al-Fajir,” a police source, refusing to be named, said.

The source said the troops arrested two smugglers who have for long been illegally trading with ancient relics.

Dhiqar holds some of the most archaeologically precious mounds in Iraq. Its archaeological riches have turned it into a hub for smugglers and illegal excavators.

Many of its mounds, some dating to the Sumerian civilization that flourished in southern Iraq more than 5000 years ago, are being ruined by illegal digging in the absence of appropriate protection.

Digging up Mesopotamian finds and selling them on the open market has become a lucrative trade since the 2003-U.S. invasion.

One of the threatened sites is Tell Chokha – a massive mound of more than eight square kilometers where a series of ancient cities and settlements many of them belonging to the Sumerian civilization are buried.

Illegal digging is taking place almost everywhere in Iraq but Dhiqar Province is said to be most attractive to smugglers due to the richness of its ancient sites and their priceless contents.

Most Sumerian artifacts are known to be small – such as cylinder seals – but of great value. Artifact collectors are said to be willing to pay up to $100,000  for a Sumerian cylinder seal of precious stone.

Moreover, the Sumerian sites in southern Iraq are easy to uncover. Artifacts come to surface with little digging.