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In Iraq, a British citizen is due to stand trial, this Sunday, May 15, 2022, for having collected archaeological fragments in the territory. Acts punishable by death.
With our correspondent in Baghdad, Lucile Wasserman
he stirs from a retired British geologist 66 years old He was on a tourist trip to Iraq and went to Eridu, an ancient city in the south of the country. This is where he would have picked up pieces of ancient pottery, which customs officials saw at Baghdad airport when this Briton wanted to leave the country.
The charges against him carry the death penalty, but this sentence is applied when dealing with traffickers. What this British team of lawyers will try to support this Sunday is that it was not a criminal act, but a personal fault, which was neither prepared nor thought out.
This type of looting happens very regularly in Iraq because the country is literally full of these very accessible archaeological objects. In almost desert areas, especially in the south of the country, it is enough to move a little away from the sites to find these small objects, these fragments, on the ground. This makes looting extremely easy.
Some Iraqis engage in this activity for economic reasons: they will sell some of these coins to earn some money. Others, on the other hand, feed international networks, and they themselves look for much rarer pieces.
Pieces that are then difficult to trace and rarely returned to the authorities. Especially since these are clandestine excavations: pieces that have never been discovered and are therefore unknown. The authorities, such as Interpol, can still investigate these objects when they consider their provenance doubtful.
Loss of part of its history
To do this, these policemen determine the time of the object to know where it could have been discovered, then investigate how it ended up in the hands of a particular antique dealer or collector. But these are difficult and time-consuming investigations to carry out, so these are only collector’s items.
Other problem, that of stolen objects, which were listed in Iraq, which we know about, but which disappeared during the periods of war. These items are easier to track, as we know what we’re looking for, and some are regularly returned, but thousands would still be out of the country. And you have to understand that Iraq loses a whole part of its history through these robberies and looting, even when it comes to small pottery shards.