FBI agents in Washington, D.C. returned a stolen artifact believed stolen from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad in 2003 to the Iraqi government. The artifact named “Furniture Fitting with Sphinx Trampling a Youth” had been held and on exhibit at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta.
Atlanta based FBI Agents had been investigating the art crime since January 2022.
In a ceremony on March 8 at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington D.C., a special agent with the FBI Art Crime Team presented the artifact to the Iraqi charge’ d’affaires for repatriation.
“While we realize there was no ill intent on behalf of Emory University, we are glad our agents could return a small part of history back to where it belongs in Iraq,” said Keri Farley, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta. “Our agents work diligently with our law enforcement partners around the world to return artifacts to their rightful owners.”
FBI Atlanta was assisted by the FBI Boston Division and the FBI’s Art Crime Team.
“We are incredibly grateful and honored to have identified and participated in the return of this historic artifact to the people of Iraq, after it was looted from Iraq’s National Museum 20 years ago, along with thousands of other priceless antiquities,” said FBI Boston Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta. “This specific piece is distinct because it is the first artifact that was looted from Baghdad to end up in a United States museum collection and FBI Boston is extremely proud to have played a role in helping to recover it. This case represents our ongoing commitment to pursue justice for victims of art crime here and abroad, and to rectify such losses to the historical record.”
Historians date the artifact back to the Iron Age and 7th century BC. It stands only two and a quarter inch tall by one and a half inches wide and is made of ivory, pigment, and gold leaf.
Agents believe the artifact was stolen during looting of the Iraq Museum in 2003. The Carlos Museum purchased the artifact from a third party in 2006 after agents believe administrators were shown a fake provenance. The presented provenance stated the artifact entered the United States in 1969.
After consulting with experts, including one which took photographs of the item in the Baghdad Museum in 1983, agents determined the artifact belonged to Iraq.
Carlos Museum personnel cooperated with agents and voluntarily handed over the artifact to FBI Atlanta agents in December 2022.
“The protection of the world’s cultural heritage is a priority for the U.S. government.” said case agent Special Agent Rafael Jimenez. “The FBI Atlanta Field Office is honored to have the opportunity to do its part by returning this important piece of cultural heritage to the people of Iraq. The FBI is also grateful to the Michael C. Carlos Museum for its cooperation in this matter.”
The FBI also thanks historians from the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, who provided valuable assistance to the FBI in confirming the authenticity of the artifact.