Image: Iraq artifact
Ali Al-saadi  /  AFP - Getty Images
Iraqi Minister of State for Tourism and Archaeology, Mohammed Abbas al-Oraibi (L), points to a detail on a historial artifact returned to Iraq from Syria at the National Museum in Baghdad.
updated 7/6/2008 12:56:03 PM ET 2008-07-06T16:56:03

Syria has returned a marble artifact to Iraq that was stolen from one of the country's archaeological sites.

The marble block roughly 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall and 1 1/2 feet (half a meter) wide contains an engraving of a bearded man kneeling in prayer and several lines of cuneiform writing.

Iraq's minister of tourism and archaeology, Mohammed Abbas al-Auraibi, told a news conference Thursday that the piece was stolen from an archaeological site in Nimrud near the northern city of Mosul.

Nimrud, some 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of Mosul, became the capital of the Assyrian empire in 883 B.C., a role it retained for more than 150 years.

A group of archeologists will study the artifact to confirm its origin, said Abdullah Hamed Muhsin, a senior official at Iraq's Archaeology Ministry.

In the chaos following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, looters snatched some 15,000 priceless artifacts and smuggled them out of the country.

Jordan recently returned 2,466 artifacts to Iraq, and the country has also received more than 700 back from Syria, al-Auraibi said. Iraq expects to receive another important artifact back from Syria next week, the minister said, without providing details.

Iraq is working with Interpol to track down some 12,000 archaeological pieces that are still missing, added al-Uraibi.

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