Baghdad, Sept. 23 (Reuters): The Sumerian Mona Lisa, a smudge on her cheek but otherwise untouched, came home to the Baghdad Museum today.
The 5,000-year-old alabaster sculpture, which topped a list of 30 priceless antiques looted from the museum at the end of the war, is believed to be one of the earliest representations of the human face dating from around 3500 BC.
To get back home she went through an ordeal no lady should have to endure, handed around in grubby back alleys and entombed for weeks in a Baghdad backyard before her rescue.
Her saviours were a New York policeman and prosecutor who tracked the mask-like sculpture down to a shallow grave.
“She’s a little dirtier — who wouldn’t be after what she’s been through — but otherwise in excellent condition,” said Captain Vance Kohner, a reservist whose full time job is as a prosecutor from Queens in New York.
Kohner and fellow New York policeman-turned-Iraq investigator Sergeant Emanuel Gonzalez spent months tracing the vanished lady through Baghdad’s maze of streets and warrens. Known as the Lady of Warka and later as the Sumerian Mona Lisa, the sculpture disappeared about April 9, the day US troops stormed into central Baghdad.
Kohner and Gonzalez, members of the 812 Military Police Company charged with tracking down antiques, both doubted they would ever work on a bigger case. “This was the number one. With the help of the Iraqi police we found a piece of history,” Kohner said.
Iraq culture minister Mofeed al-Jazairi said the Sumerian Mona Lisa was the top remaining prize in the world’s biggest antique smuggling operation, hunting thousands of pieces.
“She was our most priceless piece still at large and we have her back,” he said.
He said authorities believed many pieces have already left Iraq, been sold to eager collectors and likely lost forever.
Authorities estimate more than 10,000 artefacts are still missing from the museum, but about 3,500 have been recovered. Some were found in Britain, America, Italy and Jordan.
Many were returned under an amnesty programme including the sacred Vase of Warka, a white limestone votive bowl dating from 3,200 BC, which the museum regarded as its most priceless piece.