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CAIS ARCHAEOLOGICAL & CULTURAL NEWS©

 

Iran Presses UK to Probe Jiroft Ransacked Artefacts

 

14 July 2004

 

 

Following 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 conventions.


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 Iran.”


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 architectural motifs.


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.

 

 

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