Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Nimrud Reliefs For Sale Volume 50 Number 6, November/December 1997
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

The stream of reliefs looted from Assyrian sites in Iraq continues to flow westward. Recently, several dealers in Europe and America have been shown photographs of two fragments from the palace of Tiglath-pileser III at Nimrud, as well as two images of pieces from the site museum of Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh. The Nimrud fragments originally decorated Tiglath-pileser's central palace and are the first from that site to appear on the market. They were awaiting publication in a storeroom at the site following a 1974-1976 Polish excavation.

[image] (Photos by W. Jerke. Courtesy of the Polish Center of Archaeology, Warsaw) [image]

One of the fragments, depicting a charioteer (above left, [LARGER IMAGE]), was originally part of a larger relief that included two spearmen, a tree, and an archer. Looters used a blunt instrument to separate the charioteer from the rest of the slab. The second fragment (above right, [LARGER IMAGE]) was broken in antiquity and shows two royal officials addressing a standing king; only the king's right hand and staff survive. Photographs of one of these two pieces are known to have been shown to Robin Symes, a London antiquities dealer, who was seeking to check the provenience of the piece in advance of purchase. Symes was not eager to acquire a piece stolen from a site museum, according to Prudence O. Harper, curator of ancient Near Eastern art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harper advised Symes to contact the Polish excavators. Samuel M. Paley, an Assyriologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, says that 30 other reliefs from Nimrud may now be on the market.

[image](Photo by J.M. Russell)

The Nineveh pieces were originally displayed in the throne room suite of the palace of Sennacherib. Once part of a single relief (above, [LARGER IMAGE]), depicting a soldier leading a horse, they are the fourteenth and fifteenth sculptures to have emerged in the past two years. John M. Russell, a Columbia University archaeologist who in 1990 photographed the reliefs at the Nineveh museum, speculates that all 100 of them have been broken up and offered for sale. One of the Nineveh fragments recently surfaced in London in the possession of a British resident who bought it from a dealer in Brussels. Russell discounts the possibility that the Iraqi government is involved. "All evidence I have is that the state officially deplores this...and is doing everything it can to reclaim the fragments," he says. "The isolated nature of Nimrud and Nineveh makes them vulnerable to thieves."

* For full account with photographs and a site plan, see "Stolen Stones: The Modern Sack of Nineveh" by John Malcolm Russell.

© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America