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Missing: IM5572
Large sand-colored stone statue of a male priest (15.2 x 38 cm), with an inscription on the right shoulder mentioning the goddess Nin-shu-pur, reputedly found in the vicinity of Adab (Bismaiya), datable to the 3rd Early Dynastic Period (c. 2500 B.C.)

Missing: IM5
Headless statue of Entemena, ensi of Lagash in black diorite. The back and shoulder are inscribed in cuneiform characters, recording his name. It was found at Ur and dates back to the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C. (c. 2430 B.C.)

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Iraq Crisis Report
December, 2005

Culture Clash for Returning Kurdish Women
Many young women who have lived abroad find it hard to adjust to social strictures as well as economic difficulties when they come back to Iraqi Kurdistan. By Aziz Mahmoud in Sulaimaniyah.

A Dangerous Trade
Once protected by Saddam's regime, prostitutes now fear for their lives. By Basim al-Sharie in Baghdad.

Female Lawyers Fight for Equality
Women attorneys maintain that discrimination in the courts runs rampant. By Zaineb Naji in Baghdad.

Anfal Victims See Bleak Future
Relatives of those who perished in Iraqi army massacres feel new political era unlikely to deliver justice. By Frman Abdul-Rahman in Rizgary.

Female Politicians Face Glass Ceiling
Women in politics continue to confront gender barriers that prevent them from holding positions of real power. By Raghad Ali in Baghdad.

Women and Children Suffer From Continued Fighting
Children drop out of school and women stay off the street following weeks of conflict in Anbar province. By Yasin Ayed al-Dilaimi in Anbar province.

Iraqi Press Monitor

Prime Minister Begins Water Treatment Program in Karbala
(Al-Mada) The Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, laid the foundation for the largest new plant that will treat underground water and irrigation basins flowing to the Razaza plant. In a ceremony attended by Iraqi ministers and the Karbala governor, Ja'fari said that it is time to carry out large reconstruction projects across Iraq. He said the project will spare the city from (untreated,) salinated underground water. The director of water resources in the province and the project supervisor, Mahdi Mohammed Ali, said the new plant will cost 18 billion Iraqi dinars. (Al-Mada is issued daily by Al-Mada Institution for Media, Culture, and Arts.)

Presented in partnership with the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Please support professional development of local Iraqi journalists and encourage more cultural reporting. Click here and give generously to IWPR.




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Mesopotamia Yesterday, Iraq Today

View into Islamic galleries, Iraq Museum, Baghdad
Photo by Yasser Tabbaa, Department of Art, Oberlin College

Cultural Cue Words in the News
Browse current articles with these keywords from news sources in Iraq and surrounding countries -- Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. (Note that Syria is not currently tracked, and the Iraqi news organization, Al Mendhar, is restructuring its site.) Presented as a cross-cultural dialogue initiative to explore the relevance of Iraq's history and heritage to modern day Iraqis.

Selected Auction Results


By Carter B. Horsley*
Excerpted from The City Review, 2000-2004

Lot 391, worshipper, Mesopotamian, Syrian, Early Dynastic Period, circa 2900-2550 B.C., alabaster, 5 1/4 inches high

One of the highlights of the auction is Lot 391, a fine Mesopotamian, Syrian, alabaster worshipper that is 5 1/4 inches high. It is dated Early Dynastic Period, circa 2900-2550 B.C. It has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for $95,600.

Christie's, December 10, 2004, Sale 1446

Lot 83, "male worshipper," Mesopotamian, gypsum, Syria, early Dynastic III, circa 2550-2250 B.C., 3 1/8 inches high

Dimunitive, but cuddly, Lot 83 is a good Mesopotamian gypsum male worshipper figure from Syria, early Dynastic III, circa 2550-2250 B.C. The 3 1/8-inch-high figure has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $26,290. The worshipper's hair is tied in a chignon.

Christie's, June 9, 2004, Sale 1384

Lot 64, Calcite idol, Tell Brak, 1 7/8 inches high, circa late 4th Millennium B.C.

For those on a somewhat restricted budget but still fascinated by very early pieces, Lot 64, a Calcite idol, Tell Brak, circa late 4th Millennium B.C., may be just the thing. The 1 7/8-inch high work is highly stylized and abstract and appears to depict two adults standing behind three smaller figures, presumably a "family." It has an estimate of $5,000 to $8,000. It sold for $21,600.

Sotheby's, December 9, 2003, Sale 7949

Lot 110, deity, silver, North Syrian, circa 2nd Millennium B.C., 7 3/4 inches high

Lot 110 is a stylized figure of a deity that is North Syrian, circa 2nd Millennium B.C. The silver figure is 7 3/4 inches high and has a circular depression on its chest, perhaps for inlay. Although it is missing its arms and legs, it is a strong piece and has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $101,545.

Christie's, December 11, 2003, Sale 1314

Lot 275, head of a worshipper, calcite, Sumerian, Late Early Dynastic Period, 3 1/2-inches high, circa 2600-2350 B.C.

Lot 275 is a fine Sumerian head of a worshipper, Late Early Dynastic Period, circa 2600-2350 B.C. The 3 1/2-inch-high calcite head depicts a woman with an elaborate coiffure. Her eyes now have modern lapis and synthetic inlays. The lot has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $17,925.

Christie's, December 12, 2002, Sale 1163

Lot 145, Sumerian gypsum figure of a worshipper, Early Dynastic II, circa 2750-2600 B.C., 17 3/8 inches high

Sumerian figures are among the choicest of all antiquities. Lot 145 is a Sumerian gypsum figure of a worshipper, Early Dynastic II, circa 2750-2600 B.C. The 17 3/8-inch-high statue was once in the collections of Marion Schuster of Lausanne and Mathilde de Goldschmidt Rothschild. While the bearded figure with clasped hands in front of his bare chest cannot compare with the finely modeled figures of Sumerian rulers, it is relatively large and its garment is nicely carved, but only the front half is carved and was probably a relief. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $225,750.

Sotheby's, December 7, 2001, Sale 7742

Lot 339, Sumerian limestone statue of standing worshipper, Early Dynastic III, circa 2500 BC, 8 3/8 inches high

Lot 339, shown above, is a Sumerian limestone standing worshipper, Early Dynastic III, circa 2500 B.C. The 8 3/8-inch-high statue is in pretty good and complete condition and has a modest estimate of $90,00 to $120,000. It sold for $149,000 to a European institution.

Christie's, June 8, 2001, Sale 9666

Lot 356, a Mespotamian green stone figure of a dog, Dynasty of Isin, Reign of Bur-Sin, 1895-1874 B.C., 6 ˝ inches high

The auction's most stunning, or least most adorable, piece, however, is probably Lot 356, a Mesopotamian green stone figure of a dog, Dynasty of Isin, Reign of Bur-Sin, 1895-1874 B.C. This statue, shown above, is 6 1/2 inches high and has a conservative estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It failed to sell. The eyes are inlaid with white stone or shell and one of them still has a lapis lazuli pupil. The back of the work is inscribed in cuneiform, and the catalogue observes that the dog was the symbol of a healing goddess and that the sculpture at one time presumably was surmounted by a shepherd's crook, based on some cylinder seals.

Christie's, June 8, 2001, Sale 9666

Lot 526, a Western Asiatic chalcedony cylinder seal, Northwest Iran, circa 800-700 B.C., 34 by 20 mm

Cylinder seals are wonderful, small objects that are incised with graphic images and sometimes writing that were the "signatures" of dignitaries, officials and the well-to-do in the Ancient Near East. They are made of hard stones, often black or dark green, but also of lapis lazuli, chalcedony, agate, jasper, marble, carnelian and crystal.

In an essay in this auction's catalogue, W. G. Lambert observed that "Cylinder seals are the only object from the ancient Near East surviving in quantity over the entire time span." "So for the history of art they are unique. In addition, some carry inscriptions naming the ancient owners, or giving other valuable information, which is also unique since captions on objects are extremely rare in this area and period. And, since cylinder seals are small and mostly made of stone, many have survived intact, while other objects such as large sculpture in the round and large stone reliefs have rarely survived intact, if at all. Victorious armies often destroyed them of set plan, or plunderers and vandals as well as the elements took a toll of them over the centuries. Thus, a major collection of cylinder seals has an importance well beyond the size and bulk of the objects," Mr. Lambert wrote.

Cylinder seals are somewhat akin to Chinese scrolls in that they need to be "unraveled," or "rolled out." Because they cannot be seen completely without turning them, they are sort of early animations. Some have one continuous scene, others are "compartmentalized," and some have inscriptions. Many of the earliest ones have simple geometric patterns, and there are many traditional scenes involving nobility, gods, hunters, and beasts. Most are meant to be scrolled horizontally but the Surena collection has one that is meant to be scrolled vertically. There are small seals and large seals, some lean, and some fat. In many instances, the incised images are very hard to discern directly from the seal, often because of the stone's particular coloration, and most seals that are auctioned nowadays come with a gray clay tablet on which the seal's impression has been made, which makes it much easier to visualize. Remarkably, the three-dimensionality of the carving is usually quite pronounced. Collectors prize the quality of the images, but Mr. Lambert emphasized that the Surena collection also included many that were of historical importance because of style or specific inscriptions.

This auction contained a very broad range of seals, some of which carried quite modest estimates and some of which had quite ambitious estimates.

It proved to be a rather amazing auction with many seals fetching extremely high prices even as some sold for less than $500. Only 62 percent of the 153 offered lots sold, but prices were sufficiently high on many lots that the auction sold 88 percent "by $."

"The Surena Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals was a complete triumph," declared G. Max Bernheimer, senior vice president and International Specialist Head for Antiquities of Christie's, after the auction. "The sale was spearheaded by a Western Asiatic chalcedony seal that sold for an amazing $424,000, the world-record by far for any ancient seal ever sold at auction," he added.

That seal, Lot 526, is shown at the top of this article and the $424,000 sales price included the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. The seal, which was acquired by an "international" dealer, had a pre-sale estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.

The price was all the more remarkable because it was not the highest estimated lot in the sale and, more importantly, because it was "unfinished." The seal had not been drilled for wearing and only half of it was incised.

In his catalogue essay, Mr. Lambert made the following observations about this lot:

"This is an unfinished cylinder seal, with two standing figures, the first probably meant as a king in domed hat and long decorated robe, the second, which is shorter, is an attendant, perhaps a eunuch, holding up a fan behind his master. Then in front of these two is a rearing stag, something totally unexpected in the Mesopatamiam art of this period. While at first glance the two figures might pass as products of an Assyrian seal cutter of the reign of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria (746-727 B.C.), closer inspection reveals big differences. First, the Assyrian (and Babylonian) convention of these times requires heads to be level, which is not done with the king and his attendant. Then the designs on the dress of the two figures are entirely different from what is seen in contemporary or earlier or later Mesopatamian figures. Finally, the rearing animal in a worship scene, especially in front of a king, is totally strange for Assyria or Babylon. We are left to guess what would have been on the empty spaces of this unfinished seal, and no doubt a deity would have been depicted, probably a deity for which the stag was a sacred symbol. The area of origin can only be guessed, but there is reason to suspect that Northwest Iran is the area, and one of the kingdoms there, such as the Mannaeans, might have been the source of this fine art."

The catalogue entry for the seal, which measures only 34 by 20 mm, attributed it to Northwest Iran, circa 800-700 B.C.

There is no question that the quality of the carving on this seal is sublime, but its "unfinished" state, its difficult cultural attribution and the fact that many seals are much, much older, and many are much larger, make its price truly stunning. Given the incredibly high prices of some contemporary art, however, antiquities have long been overdue for major market revaluations.

This auction, like those this season in other collecting categories, indicated that the buying public is willing to go "overboard" for very exceptional pieces, but that such inflated values do not apply across the board and many fine, but relatively conventional works go unsold. The amount of buy-ins at this auction and several others this season was quite high, which is not healthy because of the uncertainty it creates for many future consignments as well as the difficulty it creates in establishing values.

The Surena Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, Christie's, Monday, 2 PM, June 11, 2001, Sale 9828

Lot 427, an Akkadian green serpentine cylinder seal, circa 2334-2154 B.C., 36 by 24 mm

The huge success of Lot 526 was not a fluke as witnessed by some of the other very strong prices for some of the auction's other fine lots. Lot 427, for example, shown above, is an Akkadian green serpentine cylinder seal only slightly larger than Lot 526, but much older, dating to circa 2334-2154 B.C. This lot was estimated at $30,000 to $50,000 and sold for $88,125. In his essay, Mr. Lambert noted that this seal "has a unique design: two pairs of fighting heroes, one pair merely wrestling, but the other pair trying to stab each other. The captive bird-man and guard serve as means of keeping the two pairs separate, and an inscription names the ancient owner." (The accompanying clay tablets usually show a bit more than the entire scene of the seal.) The bird-man is known as Anzu.

The Surena Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, Christie's, Monday, 2 PM, June 11, 2001, Sale 9828

Lot 429, an Akkadian green serpentine cylinder seal, circa 2334-2154 B.C., 40 by 26 mm

A slightly bigger Akkadian seal from the same period is Lot 429, shown above, has the following catalogue description:

"Boldly carved with fine detail with Nissaba, the goddess of barley and writing, seated to the right wearing a horned tiara, a necklace and a loung flounced robe, her hair falling in a long plait with a curl at the end, with three ears of barley sprouting from her shoulders, holding an ear of barley in her right hand and a tablet in her left, a bearded deity standing before Nissaba extending both hands toward her, wearing a horned tiara and a long robe with a zig-zag pattern, with plant-shoots projecting from his body, behind him a bearded figure carrying a plow in both hands, wearing a horned tiara and a long creased robe, behind the goddess her spouse Haya stands wearing a horned headdress and a long fringed robe, with a long beard and a plait of hair with a curl at the end, with many ears of barley sprouting from the sides of his body, the terminal a small figure of a worshspper wearing a log fringed robe, with short hair and heard, holding a kid over one shoulder, one arm raised."

This 40 by 24 mm seal had an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 and sold for $127,000. There are many seals of presentations to goddesses or queens, but few have such imagery and variety as this.

The Surena Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, Christie's, Monday, 2 PM, June 11, 2001, Sale 9828

Lot 433, an Akkadian black serpentine cylinder seal, circa 2334-2154 B.C., 35 by 24 mm

Lot 433, shown above, is another Akkadian seal, 35 by 24 mm, from the same period is also quite extraordinary for its details and composition. The catalogue provides the following description and commentary:

"The scene divided into three parts, one part composed of two dogs seated on their haunches looking up at an eagle in the sky carrying a man, a large pot between the dogs and a spouted vessel above the dog to the right, a man to the left wearing a kilt, standing with his right arm extending forward and his left arm raised, further to the left another scene with a standing shepherd, carrying a vessel on a rod over his shoulder, guiding three goats with whip in his right hand, between them a tripod from which hangs an oblong object, and the third scene above the goats consisting of two men engaged in a task involving an uncertain object, the two surrounded by circular objects, the terminal in the form of a fence... The man being carried by the eagle is Etana, thirteenth king of Kish. Etana had no son and prayed daily to Shamash, the sun god, to grant him a child. Shamash directed him to an eagle caught in a pit, where it had been trapped by a serpent, having eaten the young of the snake. Etana freed the eagle who, in gratitutde, carried the king on his back to heaven. Upon his arriven in heaven, Etana was brought to the throne of Ishtar where he begged the goddess or a son, since his queen was barren. She gave him the plant of birth which he had to eat together with his wife..."

This seal measures 35 by 24 mm and was estimated at only $10,000 to $15,000 and sold for $11,750.

The Surena Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, Christie's, Monday, 2 PM, June 11, 2001, Sale 9828

Lot 479, a Kassite obsidian cylinder seal, circa 1350-1200 B.C., 58.5 by 17.5 mm

While the carving of Lot 433 is considerably cruder, albeit very charming, than Lot 526, Lot 479, shown above, is another lot with exquisite carving. It is a Kassite obsidian cylinder seal, circa 1350-1200 B.C., and one of the biggest seals in the auction at 58.5 by 17.5 mm. It also carried a high estimate of $100,000. It sold for $138,000.

The catalogue notes that "horses were never wild in this region, and only in the 2nd millennium B.C., did they gradually come into use for pulling chariots. Towards the end of the millennium they were ridden for quick travel and military purposes."

The Surena Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, Christie's, Monday, 2 PM, June 11, 2001, Sale 9828

Lot 550, a Graeco-Persian Chalcedony cylinder seal, circa 5th-4th Century B.C., 26.5 by 12 mm

One of the later, or more recent, seals is Lot 550, shown above, a Graeco-Persian chalcedony cylinder seal, circa 5th-4th Century B.C. It depicts a Persian man spearing a charging boar. It was estimated at $12,000 to $18,000 and sold for $14,100.

The Surena Collection of Ancient Near Eastern Cylinder Seals, Christie's, Monday, 2 PM, June 11, 2001, Sale 9828

Lot 123, a gray chlorite, marble and lapis lazuli figure of a priestess or goddess, Bactria or Iran, circa late 3rd Millennium B.C., 3 1/4 inches high

The third great piece in this auction is Lot 123, a gray chlorite, marble and lapis lazuli figure of a priestess or goddess, Bactria or Iran, circa late 3rd Millennium B.C., shown above. The 3 1/4-inch high figure is striking not only because of its very small head but also its pose in a huge, voluminous fleece mantle that is remarkably stylish with its large leaf patterning and billowing form. The lower right front of the seated figure’s carved garment is a bit damaged, which is not visible in the above photograph but quite visible when seen from the front or the other side, but still not enough to seriously detract from the weighty significance of this small object. This lot has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, which is not unreasonable as this fat lady could probably sing! It failed to sell.

Sotheby’s, June 14, 2000, Sale 7489

Lot 120, Assyrian gypsum relief fragment, Nineveh, 704-681 B.C., 14 by 18 inches

For many novice collectors, the golden fleece is Assyrian palace reliefs from about seven centuries B.C., like the marvelous room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are on a par with the Elgin Marbles at least in terms of impressiveness and in most instances are far better preserved. Lot 120, then, should stir some interest for it is a Assyrian gypsum relief fragment, Nineveh, probably from the South-west Palace of Sennacherib, reign of Sennacherib, 704-681 BC. The 14 by 18-inch fragment has one full, and marvelously bearded, face and a portion of another. It has a conservative estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $98,500.

Sotheby’s, June 14, 2000, Sale 7489

*Carter B. Horsley is the editor and publisher of The City Review, for which he has written over 200 auction reviews. He was formerly the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post, an architecture critic for The International Herald Tribune, a reporter for The New York Times, and the producer and writer of "Tomorrow's New York Times Front Page," a weeknight syndicated program of WQXR, the radio station of The New York Times. He is also the editorial director of CityRealty.com, which contains essays written by him on hundreds of major Manhattan apartment buildings, along with ratings, neighborhood descriptions and maps.


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