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Ait Said-Ghanem, Nadia (2022) 'Smuggling Cuneiform Tablets in Aniseed Bags: Profile of a Sale Made by Elias Gejou to the British Museum in 1896.' Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 32 (1). pp. 1-12.

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The British Museum archive preserves hundreds of letters sent by antiquities dealers based in Baghdad who regularly wrote to sell archaeological artefacts to the department of Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities (the former name of today’s Middle East collection) in the late 19th century. These documents, largely understudied for the information they contain about the antiquities trade in this period, are invaluable not only because they preserve the stories of the men and women who were involved in this trade, but also because they record the details of their smuggling operations. In their letters to curators, antiquities dealers openly discussed the methods they used to circumvent the Ottoman authorities’ exportation ban of archaeological artefacts adopted in 1884. Although dealers did not shy away from writing about their operations, they did however refrain from disclosing how they passed their collections through customs undetected. Despite this absence, such stories (while rare) do survive. One of the most explicit is preserved in documents related to the British Museum’s purchase of 186 cuneiform tablets from a Baghdad-based broker named Elias Gejou in 1896, who hid the artefacts he sent in bags of aniseed. To present this rare example of a ploy to deceive, this article retraces the events and relationships that enabled Elias Gejou’s smuggling. The aim of this case study is to illustrate how investigating antiquities dealers’ letters in the British Museum archive can enrich our understanding of the manner in which Iraq’s tangible cultural heritage was dispersed across the globe.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: cuneiform; Iraq; archaeology; biography; artefacts; smugglers; antiquities dealers; museums; British Museum
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of History
Subjects: C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CD Diplomatics. Archives. Seals
C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CT Biography
P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures
P Language and Literature > PJ Semitic
ISSN: 20476930
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2022 14:41
Related URLs: https://indepen ... /NAitSaidGhanem (Author URL)
Funders: British Academy

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