Iran fights to recover stolen antiquities
Decorated glazed bricks almost 3,000 years old are on display at Iran's National Museum after a four-decade search disrupted by war and an international legal battle.
Lions and winged cows with human heads, horses and bulls with a goat's horn, kneeling men and women and other mythological figures decorate the work, created by the Mannaeans who lived in northwestern Iran in the first millennium B.C.
The 51 square bricks are painted with a glazed coating on a black, brown, light blue, yellow or white background.
Their discovery and repatriation "is a series of incredible adventures," Youssef Hassanzadeh, an archaeologist with the museum, told AFP.
It is also the latest example of Middle Eastern and African countries recovering stolen antiquities which have ended up in Western countries.
According to Hassanzadeh, the story began after the 1979 Islamic revolution when a farmer, Mirza Ali, discovered painted ceramic bricks while cultivating his field. They had been used to decorate a temple near his village in West Azerbaijan province.
"People were looting and selling glazed bricks, taking advantage of the absence of government control," said Hassanzadeh, who organised the exhibition at the museum, where visitors peer at the bricks through glass cabinets.
A few years later in 1985, during war with Iraq, Iranian authorities sent a group of archaeologists, protected by soldiers, to the village. They started to dig and seized some bricks but it was too late for the others.
Smugglers had already shipped some of them overseas, where a number entered private collections and museums, the archaeologist said.
The story took a new turn when the British Museum learned that an Iranian family had offered to sell a set...
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