the alleged haul in London of several Iranian artifacts
belonging to the Jiroft civilization, Iranian officials are
pressing the British government to make an inquiry to the case
and, if true, extradite them according to international
It was earlier reported that an Arab of Kuwaiti citizen was
trying to smuggle these looted artifacts to England, and
subsequently officials in Iranian Foreign Ministry urged London
to investigate the case. Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism
Organization (CHTO) has also sent some photos and documents to
the UK to confirm the ownership claim. Mohammad Hajseyyed-Javadi,
advisor to the head of CHTO, announced that if the initial
reports are confirmed, London is obliged under 1970 convention
to return those contraband artifacts.
“Over the years, Iran has complied with the convention and
lawfully expects British authorities to return them, if the
report is ever confirmed,” he said. “Last year we sent four
comprehensive books on Jiroft objects for major European museums
and urged their directors to send back all similar artifacts to
The photographs in the book introduce the items as belonging to
Iran, so in case they are offered for sale, the curators of the
museums be aware of that they are smuggled items and inform the
Iranian authorities. The book may also prove helpful if legal
problems concerning the relics occur in the future.
In January 2001 a group of Iranians from Jiroft in the
southwestern province of Kerman stumbled upon an ancient tomb.
Inside they found a hoard of objects decorated with highly
distinctive engravings of animals, mythological figures and
They did not realize it at the time but they had just made one
of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of recent
years, one that is radically altering accepted notions of the
development of the world's earliest civilizations in Iran and
Mesopotamia between the fourth and third millennia BC. A few
weeks after the discovery, officials from Iran's Ministry of
Culture, vastly outnumbered by local people, watched hopelessly
as thousands systematically dug up the area. The locals set up a
highly organized impromptu system to manage the looting: each
family was allocated an equal plot of six square-meters to dig.
This organized pillaging continued for an entire year. Dozens of
tombs were discovered, some containing up to 60 objects, and
thousands of ancient objects were removed. All of these were
destined for overseas markets.
In February 2002 Iran's police finally arrived in force to stop
the destruction. Some 2,000 objects were confiscated from locals
in Jiroft and other hoards of the ancient artifacts ready to be
shipped overseas were seized in Tehran and at Bandar Abbas.
The objects confiscated by the police are unlike anything ever
seen before by archaeologists. Many are made from chlorite, a
grey-green soft stone; others are in copper, bronze, terracotta,
even lapis lazuli. They are now being studied by a group of
Iranian archaeologists led by Professor Yousef Madjidzadeh.
Official excavation of the site began in February 2003. It is
focusing on both the necropolis, which was looted extensively,
and on an ancient settlement not discovered by the looters.
The finds at Jiroft were first publicized last August when an
illustrated catalogue of some of the objects was circulated at a
conference in Tehran (Yousef Majidzadeh, Jiroft: the earliest
Oriental civilization, Organization of the Ministry of Culture
and Islamic Guidance, Tehran, 2003).
But much of the damage done at Jiroft is irreversible: the tombs
that were plundered were completely emptied and hoards of the
artifacts have already appeared for sale in Europe. In 2002
vases from the site were offered for sale at Drouot in Paris
and, according to market specialists, the artifacts are on offer
with several dealers in France.
They are usually catalogued as vases from Kerman or with the
more generic description of Middle Eastern. A group of some 80
Jiroft artifacts was known to be on offer in London last year
with a price tag of £600,000.