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23 December 2007
Swiss, EBay stop sale of 4,000-year-old Iraqi treasure

A 4,000-year-old clay tablet authorities suspect was smuggled illegally from Iraq was pulled from eBay just minutes before the close of the online auction, authorities said. Criminal proceedings have been launched against the seller, identified only as a resident of Zurich, officials said.
     A German archaeologist had spotted the tablet bearing wedge-shaped cuneiform script on the online auctioneer's Swiss Web site, a government official said. The archaeologist alerted German authorities, who passed the tip onto their Swiss counterparts, said Yves Fischer, who directs the Swiss Federal Office of Culture's department on commerce in cultural objects. EBay Inc. stopped the auction on Dec. 12 "a few minutes before the end" of its bidding deadline, Fischer said. Zurich police then confiscated the small tablet about the size of a business card from a storage facility. The tablet, which dates from around 2000 BCE was 'with great probability' smuggled out of Iraq illegally, government officials said in a statement. Fischer said the tablet had yet to be deciphered. Cuneiform tablets were used throughout the Middle East and ancient Persia during the last three millennia BCE for recording everything from great deeds of leaders to routine correspondence and bookkeeping.
     Authorities "will now establish the facts to see what to do with the object," Fischer said. "If it's a tainted object, then the goal will be to return it to Iraq." The seller faces a fine of up to $430,000 or jail time if convicted of breaking Swiss embargo laws on the transfer of cultural goods.

Source: Associated Press (19 December 2007)

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