‘Man carrying a box, possibly for offerings’

New York’s Metropolitan Museum returns ancient Sumerian figurine to Iraqi officials

NEWSROOM — An ancient Mesopotamian artifact, dating back to the Sumerian era, was handed over to Iraq by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The handover ceremony was attended by Iraqi Prime Minister, Mohammed Shiaa’ Al-Sudani,  Iraqi Ambassador to Washington Nizar Al-Khairallah, and representatives from the museum.

The copper alloy piece, named “Man carrying a box, possibly for offerings,” is of a nude male figure carrying a box on his head.

According the museum’s description, the figure is “reminiscent of scenes depicting priests carrying offerings,” a ritual common in the Early Dynastic period 2900-2350 BCE.

The sculpture had been part of the museum’s collection for nearly 70 years, since it was acquired in 1955.

Al-Sudani expressed his gratitude to the Metropolitan Museum for their cooperation in the return of the artifact. He emphasized that such initiatives bolster the bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States.

Highlighting the artifact’s significance, Al-Sudani remarked, “Iraqi antiquities represent the identity, history, and civilization of our country.” Iraqi authorities have worked to recover taken artifacts associated with Mesopotamian civilizations, a statement from the Prime Minister’s office said, particularly after extensive looting and neglect in the post-2003 era.

The museum’s director, Max Hollein, expressed the Met’s commitment to collecting antiquities and to preserving cultural heritage.

“We are honored to collaborate with the Republic of Iraq on the return of this sculpture,” Hollein said in a statement reported by The New York Times.

Al-Sudani, accompanied by a high-level delegation of Iraqi officials, has been in the United States this week for meetings, which included a visit to the White House for discussions with U.S. President Joseph Biden.

Iraqi museums faced largescale looting in recent decades, with tens of thousands of artifacts reportedly stolen and disappeared.

On May 9, 2023, the Iraqi foreign ministry revealed that 34,502 artifacts have been returned to the country since 2019.