US 'repatriates' rare Assyrian artifact to Palestinian Authority

It is one of a number of looted cultural objects from the Middle East that were recovered and returned to countries in the region, the US said.

 A man places a Palestinian flag on a fence surrounding the U.S. consulate during a rally in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, in Arab East Jerusalem September 21, 2011 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
A man places a Palestinian flag on a fence surrounding the U.S. consulate during a rally in support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' bid for statehood recognition in the United Nations, in Arab East Jerusalem September 21, 2011
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

The Biden administration “repatriated” an almost 3,000-year-old Assyrian cosmetic tool for pouring incense to the Palestinian Authority, in recognition of its historic ties to the West Bank.

It’s the first time the United States has returned an archaeological artifact to the Palestinian Authority, since its formation in 1994.

“The US Office of Palestinian Affairs is proud to facilitate the return of this rare antiquity, an example of Palestinian cultural patrimony,” the chief of the US Office of Palestinian Affairs George Noll said during a ceremony held in Bethlehem on Thursday to mark the repatriation moment.

“This is a historic moment between the American and Palestinian people and a demonstration of our belief in the power of cultural exchanges in building mutual understanding, respect, and partnership,” he said.

"This is a historic moment between the American and Palestinian people"

George Noll, chief of the US Office of Palestinian Affairs
THE US CONSULATE General on Agron Street in Jerusalem – eye of a storm. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)THE US CONSULATE General on Agron Street in Jerusalem – eye of a storm. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

PA Tourism Minister Rula Maayah explained that the restoration of the artifact was “important as it acquires its real scientific and archaeological value in its authentic location.”

She explained that it was a “cosmetic tool that was used to pour incense, and it dates to the Assyrian civilization 700-800 BC. Based on information from the US side, the investigations they conducted showed that the artifact was stolen from the Khirbet al-Koum area in Hebron.”

Looted Middle East cultural objects

The artifact was discovered in New York as part of an investigation into looted antiquities by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the help of the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

It had been part of a collection of 180 stolen pieces of antiquities valued at $180m. that had been in the collection of Michael Steinhardt and seized by the US authorities.

According to the US, it was one of a number of looted cultural objects from the Middle East that were recovered and returned to countries in the region.

Ivan Arvelo, special agent in charge for HSI in New York, explained that “antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage.

‘We are honored to join our partners today in the historic repatriation of this artifact to the Palestinian Authority.”

Regional attaché for the US Department of Homeland Security HSI, Jeff Brannigan said, “this repatriation is representative of HSI’s commitment to ensuring the storied heritages of peoples around the world through the preservation and protection of cultural artifacts.”