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Ancient Iraqi stone head matched up with replica body

Published on 14/10/2009

Baghdad — A mysterious stone head from ancient Mesopotamia dating back more than 4,000 years has been matched up with a replica body in Iraq after years of delays brought on by sanctions and war.

The head from the Akkadian Empire, unearthed by Iraqi archaeologists in 1982, has been united with a replica of a headless torso discovered over a century ago, Baghdad Museum curator Mohsen Hassan Ali told AFP.

The replica of the stone torso held in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum was handed over at a ceremony earlier this year and in return, the Baghdad Museum has donated a copy of the head to fit the torso in Germany.

"We have succeeded in bringing the two parts together, more or less, after a very long time," Ali said.

The two parts of the statue from the town of Ashur, thought to be of a king or governor, are some of the best preserved artefacts from the ancient empire that flourished along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers between the 23rd and 21st century BC.

German archaeologist Walter Andrae discovered the 1.37 metre tall (about four foot) diorite stone torso in 1905 and it was put on display from 1926 in the Berlin Royal Museum.

Following the later discovery at the same site of a head in the same dark grey granite-like stone, a cast of the neck and shoulders was sent to Baghdad, where curators were thrilled to discover the cast fitted exactly to the head.

The statue, a robed figure standing on a plinth, is thought to represent a king or a governor but it cannot be fully identified as it bears no inscription.

Experts in both countries decided in the early 1990s to make replicas of the head and torso so they could each have a complete body.

But years of UN sanctions against the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, then the 2003 US-led war that overthrew him and chaotic violence throughout the country in the years that followed put a dampener on that plan.

Ali said he was thankful that the head managed to escape widespread looting that erupted after Saddam’s overthrow, when a huge number of artefacts disappeared.

"By chance the head was hidden during the looting of the museum when the Americans arrived in Baghdad. If not, maybe the two pieces — or to be more precise the two copies — would not have been reunited," he said.

Germany has also offered help in restoring Ezekiel’s tomb in the town of Kifl south of Baghdad.

The shrine to the prophet who followed the Jews into Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC is revered by Muslims but has fallen into disrepair.