eBay Halts Sale of Iraqi Treasure

Smuggled 4,000-year-old tablet was taken down minutes before auction closed
By Nick McMaster,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2007 4:24 PM CST
Cuneiform tablets and other stolen antiquities that were returned in recent days to the Iraqi National Museum are displayed at the museum April 29, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq. The museum was severely looted...   (Getty Images)
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(Newser) – eBay called off the auction of a 4,000-year-old clay tablet last week just minutes before it closed because an expert suspected the artifact had been smuggled out of Iraq, the Guardian reports. A German archaeologist alerted authorities after spotting the tablet, a business-card-size object covered in distinctive cuneiform script, on Swiss eBay.

Police are charging the the seller, a Zurich resident, with breaking the Swiss embargo on cultural goods, a crime punishable with a prison term or $430,000 fine. Iraq, a rich home of archaeological treasures, has been looted substantially in the chaos since the 2003 US invasion. Swiss authorities say they will try to determine the object's origin and return it.