The gold neo-Assyrian earrings were claimed by Iraq but awaiting the highest bidder Monday in New York. Just days before the sale of ancient art and antiquities, however, Christie's took the jewelry, believed to be from the treasure of Nimrud, off the auction block.Christie's says it is cooperating with an investigation into whether the earrings were in fact stolen from Iraq.
"When Christie's learned that there might be an issue with the provenance of the earrings they withdrew the lot from the sale," says Sung-Hee Park, a spokeswoman for the auction house in New York. "The lot is still with Christie's in New York, but we are cooperating in the investigation."As of Wednesday night, when a Monitor story detailed an Iraqi petition to stop the sale, the earrings were still part of the Dec. 9 auction. On Thursday morning, the auction house website said Lot 215 – a pair of neo-Assyrian earrings believed to be between 9,000 to 10,000 years old – had been withdrawn.US officials say they have been involved for at least several weeks in trying to prevent the earrings from being sold after they were alerted that the ancient jewelry might have been part of the treasures of Nimrud, one of Iraq's greatest archaeological finds."This is an issue we have been aware of for quite some time," says Adam Ereli, spokesman for the US Embassy in Baghdad.The Christie's spokeswoman said she did not know why they were publicly withdrawn from sale only Thursday.The treasures of Nimrud are considered one of the most important finds of the last century – the hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry, bowls, and ornaments compare in lavishness to the jewelry from King Tut's tomb. A prominent Iraqi archaeologist, who photographed the hundreds of pieces excavated from the ancient Assyrian capital in 1989, says the earrings are unique."I'm sure it is from the collection. I've been there during the excavations, I know the pieces," says Donny George, former director of the Iraq museum and now a professor at Long Island's Stony Brook University.
The interesting issue now is whether there's going to be enough evidence or a fruitful investigation. Who consigned the earrings to Christie's? Removing the earrings from auction is great, and Christie's should be commended, however that is just the first step. Iraq protested the sale earlier, but this earlier CSM article may have helped prod Christie's along.
Are we able to investigate back up the stream of commerce to discover who stole or looted these earrings? There are very strong import restrictions in place to prevent these objects from being imported into the US. The difficulty is the efficacy of those restrictions, given the massive amount of objects which flood America's ports.