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Babylonian Artifact Found by Chicago CBP Returned to Iraq

Release Date: 
March 1, 2010

Chicago - An ancient Babylonian artifact found by Chicago Customs and Border Protection officers at the International Mail Branch near O'Hare Airport was returned, along with additional cultural properties, to the Ambassador of Iraq to the United States, Samir Sumaida'ie, at an Iraqi Embassy ceremony in Washington, D.C. on February 25.

Chicago CBP officers found the small brown artifact in 2007 during an inspection of outbound mail parcels. It was valued at $345, listed as a "Babylonian Clay Foundation Cone" and was being mailed to an individual in Australia.

An ancient Babylonian “foundation cone” is returned to the Iraqi Ambassador.

An ancient Babylonian “foundation cone” is returned to the Iraqi Ambassador.

An investigation by CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement revealed that the cone, dated circa 2100 B.C., was authentic and excavated from the ancient city of Girsu, which is now Telloh, a city in the Southern Iraqi providence of Dhi Qar. The clay cone inscription commemorated the (re-) building of Eninnu, the temple of Girsu's city god Ningirsu, by governor Gudea. The inscription found on the cone read: "(For the god) Ningirsu, mighty warrior of (the god) Enlil, Gudea, governor of Lagash, has organized what is necessary. His (i.e., Nigirsu's) Eninnu-of-the shining- Anzu-bird he (re-) build (and) returned it to him." The cone itself would have been embedded in a temple's foundation.

Based on the investigation, the ancient artifact was seized because it was of Iraqi origin and subject to Iraqi sanctions which prohibit the trade in Iraqi cultural property.

"These irreplaceable ancient snapshots of history and heritage are priceless to their home nations, said David Murphy, director of Customs and Border Protection Chicago Field Operations, "The successful finding, investigation and return of cultural property is one reason why CBP not only vigilantly exams what is coming into this country but what is going outbound as well."

Additional items returned in the Iraqi Embassy ceremony included an ancient Sumerian bronze foundation cone and stone tablet; an ancient Iraqi coin; neo-Assyrian gold earrings; and an AK-47 bearing an image of Saddam Hussein.

Last modified: 
February 9, 2017