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Oriental Institute

Lost Treasures from Iraq

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 •    Last update:

April 14, 2008

 •  Number of objects currently in on-line version of database: 1483

 • Recent additions to Database

Iraq Museum Database
  No other museum can rival the collections of Mesopotamian artifacts in the Iraq Museum. Spanning a time from before 9,000 B.C. well into to the Islamic period, the Iraq Museum's collections includes some of the earliest tools man ever made, painted polychrome ceramics from the 6th millennium B.C., a relief-decorated cult vase from Uruk, famous gold treasures from the Royal Cemetery at Ur, Sumerian votive statues from Tell Asmar, Assyrian reliefs and bull figures from the Assyrian capitals of Nimrud, Nineveh, and Khorsabad, and Islamic pottery and coins--an unrivaled treasure not only for Iraq, but for all mankind.

        In the days following the conquest of Baghdad by U.S. troops in April 2003, the Iraq Museum was looted; many pieces were stolen, others damaged or destroyed. Thanks to the foresight of the museum staff, the losses were less severe than than initially reported in the media, when a total loss of this collection was predicted. Even two years, however, a full damage assessment is still missing. A complete list of all losses can only be drawn up after a complete inventory of all remaining items has been complied, a lengthy and laborious procedure that obstructed by the fact that the museum's archive had been devastated during the looting. Some 15,000 items are now confirmed to be have been stolen. Several famous pieces, such as the Warka Vase and the Warka Head, were retrieved or returned to the museum, but many other important pieces, including the museum's collection of 4,800 cylinder seals, remains missing. Irrespective of numbers, these losses are tremendous not only to the world of archaeology but to mankind in general.

        Since April 2003 scholars at the Oriental Institute have been compiling a comprehensive database of objects from the Iraq Museum. While the primary objective of this project is to help in the recovery of the missing objects, we also hope that this site will be found useful as an educational resource for schools and the general public. The objects are presented in categories. We have tried to adopt a descriptive terminology, based on visually obvious characteristics, and to avoid scholarly, interpretive terms. Since different people will look for different characteristics, many objects will feature in multiple categories. The layout of the categories is hierachical, starting off with material (e.g., clay, stone, ivory), followed by prinicipal object types (e.g., sculpture, relief, seal).

        The "status" of an object given on its page reflects its status as presently known to us at the Oriental Institute. It is quite possible that the whereabouts of some objects listed as being of "unknown" status are known to others. Corrections to our listings are appreciated.

        Relative dates for objects (periods, archaeological phases) have been converted to absolute dates in years B.C., generally following the chronological layout presented in Robert Ehrich [Editor], Chronologies in Old World Archaeology. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). With different chronological schemes still being used in Mesopotamian archaeology, our interpretations may well evoke criticism from other scholars, but we believe that the use of absolute dates makes it easier for non-specialists to use this site. More images from the Oriental Institute's collections, as well as images sent to us by other scholars, will be added successively. Check back for additions and updates.

        The database and the pages shown here were compiled and edited by Clemens Reichel. Most of the object descriptions were entered by project volunteer Karen Terras, who also scanned hundreds of images. Her initiative and great enthusiasm are gratefully acknowledged here. Numerous scholars and publishers gave us permission to use their published data for this project. Hirmer Verlag (Munich) generously allowed us to use images from Eva Strommenger, Fünf Jahrtausende Mesopotamien. (1962). Georgina Herrmann (Institute of Archaeology, London / British School of Archaeology) not only allowed us to use images of Nimrud ivories from the Iraq Museum that are published in the Series Ivories from Nimrud, but also made digital versions of these images available to us; CDs with these images were prepared and sent to us by Stuart Laidlaw (Photographic Department, Institute of Archaeology, London). Harriet Martin and Nicholas Postgate kindly supplied us with photographs and descriptions of the seals from Abu Salabikh. Numerous others have sent us their data, which we will continue to add. Their willingess to help our efforts is gratefully acknowledged here.

        All images in this database for which we do not hold the copyright are used with permission; names of copyright holders are stated at the bottom of each page. This does NOT mean that we hold the copyright for these images; we therefore CANNOT grant permission for use to third parties. Anyone who copies images from our site bears the responsibility of obtaining permission for their use from the appropriate parties.

        The objects shown here are known to have been in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad or in one of Iraq's provincial museums before the war. Their appearance on this site does not necessarily imply that they have been stolen. If you encounter any of these items outside of Iraq, contact law enforcement authorities immediately!

        For documentation on cuneiform tablets from the Iraq Museum see the website of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative Project (CDLI).

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created: May 27, 2003
revised: April 14, 2008
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