Emergency Red List of Iraqi Antiquities at Risk

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Cultural heritage in Iraq has suffered seriously as a result of war. Many objects have been looted and stolen from museums and archaeological sites and risk appearing on the market through illicit trafficking.
Although the Iraq museum in Baghdad is not the only place that has suffered, it is certainly by far the most important institution. The museum has been looted and is missing a great part of its former collection. The Iraq Museum is a national archaeological museum that serves as the repository for all artefacts from excavations in Iraq. It contains hundreds of thousands of objects covering 10,000 years of human civilization, representing many different cultures and styles. The bulk of the collection dates between 8000 BC and 1800 AD, and comprises objects made of clay, stone, pottery, metal, bone, ivory, cloth, paper, glass, and wood.


This document has been designed as a tool for customs officials, police officers, art dealers and collectors to help them to recognize objects that could originate from Iraq.

This Red List describes the general types of artefacts most favoured by the illegal antiquities market, so that these may be identified and detained wherever they surface. They are protected by legislation, banned from export and may under no circumstances be imported or put on sale. An appeal is therefore being made to museums, auction houses, art dealers and collectors not to acquire them.

This is a list of the types of objects from Iraq which are particularly at risk and are likely to have been stolen. It is in no way exhaustive. Because of the tremendous variety of objects, styles, and periods, any antiquity from Iraq should be treated with suspicion.

This Red List was drawn up by a group of 12 international experts during a meeting held at the Interpol headquarters in Lyons (France) on 7 May 2003.

The Red List includes
the following categories
of objects
(arranged in order of how frequently they appear on the art market)
  1. Tablets of clay or stone with cuneiform writing.
  2. Cones and any other objects with cuneiform writing.
  3. Cylinder seals of stone, shell, frit, etc.
  4. Stamp seals of stone, shell, etc., and their impressions.
  5. Ivory, bone plaques and sculptures.
  6. Sculpture, 3-dimensional and relief.
  7. Vessels / Containers (large or small).
  8. Jewellery, carved gems and personal adornments.
  9. Manuscripts, calligraphy, books and archival documents.
  10. Architectural and furniture fragments.
  11. Coins.

Suspicious characteristics

  Any object with reference numbers written on it and any object that shows traces of reference numbers in ink. The inventory numbers of the Iraq Museum generally follow the mention "IM" (abbreviation for “Iraq Museum”).

  Any object with Cuneiform ("wedge-shaped") writing on it. This writing is composed of horizontal, vertical or oblique strokes with triangular ends, impressed or incised into the material. Cuneiform looks like a lot of small triangular depressions arranged in patterns. Early examples look like picture writing. It is found especially on objects of clay and stone, but also metal, ivory, and pottery.

  Any object with Aramaic writing on it (alphabetic writing, mostly engraved or in ink).

With the support of

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs