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January 20, 2022Los Angeles, CA, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

ICE returns ancient artifacts to the Republic of Iraq

Items are extremely rare and at least 4,000 years old

LOS ANGELES – Special Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Ventura, California returned ancient artifacts to the Republic of Iraq Thursday. The ceremony took place at the Iraqi Consulate in Los Angeles, California.

One of the artifacts is a partial cuneiform stone tablet. Experts say it is thousands of years old and may have left the country during looting at the start of the 20th century.

“Investigating cultural property and antiquities is a unique part of our mission at Homeland Security Investigations,” said Eddy Wang, acting special agent in charge, HSI Los Angeles. “We are proud to return these artifacts, steeped in history, to the people of Iraq.”

Law enforcement became aware of the item in July of 2020 when a local collector purchased it from an online auction house. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seized the piece after it was shipped from the United Kingdom without the proper documentation. No charges are pending.

The other artifact is a cuneiform prism. An expert in Sumerian literature says it likely originated from modern-day Iraq and is from the Old Babylonian Period 2000-1600 BCE. The inscribed text was used in Old Babylonian scribal schools to teach children how write. There are only two other prisms known with this text.

The cuneiform prism was found in a warehouse in early 2021. The owner is deceased and wanted it donated to a collection. However, because there was no proof of title, it was turned over to HSI.

"We appreciate HSI's ongoing efforts and coordination to repatriate two extremely rare ancient Iraqi artifacts," said Consul General Dr. Salwan Sinjaree. "These efforts highlight the significant cooperation between the Iraqi and American authorities. This level of collaboration also strengthens the friendship and the relationship under the Strategic Framework Agreement between both countries. It also enhances our ongoing measures to eliminate terrorism and other unlawful acts."

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move.

HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest global footprints in U.S. law enforcement.