Stolen Iron Age artifact found at Emory Museum, returned to Iraqi government

A stolen artifact that was at a museum on the Emory University Campus for 17 years has been returned to the Iraqi government.

The artifact called “Furniture Fitting with Sphinx Trampling a Youth” was held at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta in 2006.

Historians date the artifact back to the Iron Age and 7th Century BC. The artifact is two and a quarter inches tall and one and a half inches wide and made of ivory, pigment, and gold leaf.

“This thing is 2700 years old. Dates back to the Iron Age, 7th century BC,” Atlanta FBI Spokesperson Tony Thomas said.  “Way back when present day Iraq was known as Babylon.”

The FBI believes the artifact was stolen from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad as part of looting in 2003. The Carlos Museum then purchased the artifact from a third party in 2006, according to a news release.

FBI agents believe that Carlos Museum officials were shown a fake provenance. The presented provenance stated the artifact entered the United States in 1969.

Atlanta-based FBI Agents had been investigating the art crime since January 2022.

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“They got tricked. There was no ill intent by Emory University or the Carlos Museum. They were, in a sense, victims too. When they realized what was going on, they voluntarily handed it back over,” Thomas said.

In a ceremony Wednesday at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington D.C., a Special Agent with the FBI Art Crime Team presented the artifact to the Iraqi Charge’ d’Affaires for repatriation.

The Carlos Museum has artifacts from Africa, the Americas, ancient Egypt, Nubia, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and South Asia, according to its website.

After consulting with experts, including one who took photographs of the item in the Baghdad Museum in 1983, agents determined the artifact belonged to Iraq.


The Carlos Museum cooperated with agents and voluntarily handed over the artifact to FBI Atlanta agents in December 2022.

“The protection of the world’s cultural heritage is a priority for the U.S. Government.” said case agent Special Agent Rafael Jimenez. “The FBI Atlanta Field Office is honored to have the opportunity to do its part by returning this important piece of cultural heritage to the people of Iraq. The FBI is also grateful to the Michael C. Carlos Museum for its cooperation in this matter.”

The FBI thanked historians from the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania, who helped confirm the authenticity of the artifact.

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