WASHINGTON – U.S. authorities have recovered almost 40,000 manuscripts and 700 artifacts that were missing from the National Museum in Baghdad, officials said Wednesday.
The recoveries include a clay pot dating to 5000 B.C. and an inscribed cornerstone from King Nebuchadnezzar's (search) 7th-century B.C. Babylon palace. One person returned a box of manuscripts and parchments. Another Iraqi brought back 46 antiquities, including a vase he claimed was 7,000 years old.
U.S. customs agents tracked down another 10 pieces, including a broken statue of an Assyrian king dating back to the 9th century B.C.
As Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, looters pillaged the Iraqi National Museum (search), which had housed one of the Middle East's leading archaeological collections. U.S. officials said many items originally thought looted had actually been placed in hidden vaults for protection before the Iraq war began, and other items were returned once agents talked of amnesty and potential rewards.
Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, now part of the new Homeland Security Department, and U.S. military forces have been working with museum curators and employees to develop a list of missing items, and to prevent additional looting.
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has said immigration and customs agents in Iraq are helping to investigate money laundering and smuggling in addition to trying to track down the looted artifacts.
At least 38 major, high-value artifacts are missing from the main gallery, officials have said. But some experts say thousands of artifacts, including priceless antiquities, may be missing and could have been taken out of the country. Museum curators last month urged the United States to secure Iraq's borders to prevent the looted items from being taken out of the country.
Attorney General John Ashcroft suggested earlier this week at a conference of Interpol, the international police organization, that the looters included criminals who knew what they were looking for.