- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

BAGHDAD — The world-famous treasures of Nimrud, unaccounted for since Baghdad fell two months ago, have been located in good condition in Iraq’s Central Bank in a secret vault-inside-a-vault submerged in sewage water, U.S. occupation authorities said yesterday.

They also said fewer than 50 items from the collection of the Iraqi National Museum of Antiquities main exhibition are still missing after the looting and destruction that followed the U.S. capture of Baghdad.

The artifacts — gold earrings, finger and toe rings, necklaces, plates, bowls, and flasks, many of them elaborately engraved and set with semiprecious stones or enamel — were found several days ago when the vault was opened, said an official of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the official name of the U.S.-led occupation force.

He said they were “largely unscathed.”

The Nimrud treasures date to about 900 B.C. They were discovered by Iraqi archaeologists in the late 1980s in four royal tombs at the site of the ancient city of Nimrud, near Mosul in northern Iraq.

The treasures, one of the 20th century’s most significant archaeological finds, have not been seen in public since the early 1990s.

Nimrud, destroyed in 612 B.C., was the second capital of Assyria, an ancient kingdom that sat partly in what is today Iraq. The discovery of the treasures in the royal tombs surprised archaeologists at the time, because members of the royal family were thought to be buried only in the holy city of Assur.

“Early inspection of the pieces suggest that they are in good condition,” said a statement issued by the provisional authority. It said a team from the British Museum will join Iraqi experts to find the best way to protect them.

The coalition official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said at a news briefing that the number of artifacts looted or lost from the Iraqi National Museum after the fall of Baghdad was significantly exaggerated.

Of the 170,000 initially thought to be missing, 3,000 remain unaccounted for. These are mostly not worthy of museum exhibition and include items such as small shards of pottery.

The official said 47 main exhibition items are missing. Sixty-four pieces from that collection were looted, the coalition announcement said.

The coalition official said one or two of the museum’s galleries will open later this month but gave no further details.

“It is a great relief that so much of the museum’s main collection is safe and in good condition,” said Pietro Cordone, the provisional authority’s senior adviser on cultural affairs.

But he added: “There is no room for complacency. There are still important items that are missing from the museum’s collection.”

Since shortly after Saddam Hussein’s government fell in April, a team of U.S. investigators has catalogued the museum’s contents.

Earlier this week, the team found another secret vault containing 179 boxes. Inside were nearly 8,000 of the most important items from the museum collection, the coalition said. It did not give the location of the vault.

U.S. Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, head of the American investigation team, said some of the looted items have been recovered under a no-questions-asked amnesty program and that others were found in raids.

The looting of the museum, home of extraordinary Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian collections and rare Islamic texts, caused an international uproar.

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