Sumerian statue looted from Iraq found by U.S. investigators

Three years after Iraq's National Museum was looted during the U.S. invasion, the U.S. has returned a significant artifact to Iraqi authorities.

Three years after Iraq's National Museum was looted during the U.S. invasion, the U.S. has returned a significant artifact to Iraqi authorities.

The headless stone statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash was turned over to the Iraqi government when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Washington on Wednesday.

The statue, which weighs hundreds of pounds, was taken by looters who slid or rolled it down the steps of the museum, damaging both the steps and other artifacts.

After the news of the looting, the U.S. was heavily criticized by archeologists for failing to guard the Baghdad museum, which was a treasure trove of ancient artifacts.

The 4,000-year-old statue is the first artifact to be found in the U.S., but some artifacts are turning up in other parts of the world.

On Wednesday, the Netherlands announced it had returned to Iraqi authorities three clay tablets that it believes had been stolen from the museum.

Dutch police began investigating after museums said they had been offered Iraqi antiquities.

Lost items turn up in Europe, Syria

The National Museum lost an estimated 50,000 items from its collection of Mesopotamian antiquities.

Items have turned up in Britain and Italy, as well as in street markets in Syria.

Thousands of looted artifacts that remained in Iraq — from tiny cylinder seals to the famed WarkaMask — have since been returned to the museum.

U.S. authorities declined to reveal details of the investigation that led to the return of the Sumerian statue, saying they are doing further investigation.

But the New York Times reports a New York antiquities dealer and an Iraqi businessman co-operated with the investigation.

Antiquities experts were taken to a warehouse in Queens New York to verify the authenticity of the work.

The statue had been taken out of Iran via Syria.

Unearthed in the ancient southern city of Ur, the statue is of a king dressed in a tasselled sheepskin skirt with his arms crossed in prayer. The naturalistic carving has detailed inscriptions on the back and shoulders. It was headless when found.

The striking work once dominated the Sumerian hall in the National Museum in Baghdad.

National Museum officials say they are delighted at the return of the figure of Entemena, but lamented the slow progress in finding other artifacts.

The museum is still susceptible to looting during outbreaks of violence in the Iraqi capital and keeps part of its remaining collection sealed off to protect it.