While attacks have fallen significantly in the past two years, security is still fragile and there are no immediate plans to reopen the Iraq museum to the general public. The earrings will go back into a bank vault rather than a museum display case.
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The retrieval of each one of the major pieces is one of international intrigue. The earrings were found after they offered for sale at auction at Christie's in New York last December. The catalog listed them as having been acquired by the owner before 1969, the year before a UNESCO convention made it more difficult to trade in antiquities.
The earrings were recognized by Iraqi archaeologists as part of the treasures of Nimrud, excavated in 1989 when an Iraqi team discovered a royal tomb overlooked by previous British excavations. They were believed stolen from the Baghdad Museum before the collection was put into safekeeping in bank vaults before the 1991 war with the U.S. over Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.
Christie's, which had put opening bids at $45,000 to $65,000 for the earrings, withdrew them after the Iraq Embassy launched a formal claim.
The treasures of Nimrud were considered one of the most spectacular finds of the 20th century, on a scale of the gold found in King Tut's tomb. The gold jewelry and other objects were publicly exhibited only twice - the second time for just one afternoon when U.S. occupation authorities reopened the museum in 2003 for a day before abruptly closing it again because of violence.
The other retrieved objects on display included a 440-pound headless basalt statue of Assyrian ruler King Entemena, who ruled around 2,400 B.C., found in Ur early in the last century. It was believed to have taken as a war trophy from Lagash and had its head removed in antiquity.
The shipment from the U.S. included a modern-day war trophy - a pearl-handled, Russian-made machine gun once given as a gift to Saddam and looted by a U.S. Army soldier from a palace in 2003. U.S. Customs agents retrieved the rifle from the headquarters of a Fort Lewis, Wash.-based Stryker brigade and returned it to Iraqi authorities.
They also included a Torah - a scroll with a handwritten copy of the Jewish Old Testament - retrieved from Germany. Iraqi antiquity officials have quietly launched a campaign to retrieve Jewish artifacts illegally taken out of the country after the looting in 2003.
The U.S. State Department helped restore about 200 of the pieces that had been found damaged - the majority of them cuneiform and stone tablets and tiny cylinder seals.
The director of the Iraq Museum, Amira Edan, said 35,000 pieces have been returned since 2003.
Edan said she was still trying to retrieve looted cuneiform tablets being held by the Spanish government, which has said it requires more proof that they belong to Iraq.
(McClatchy Newspapers and The Christian Science Monitor maintain a joint bureau in Baghdad.)
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