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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Priceless Iraqi artefact returned
Warka Mask
The Warka Mask is also known as the Sumerian Mona Lisa
One of Iraq's most treasured antiquities has been returned to the Baghdad Museum for the first time since it was looted during the war.

The 5,000-year-old Warka Mask, also known as the Sumerian Mona Lisa, was recovered by Iraqi police and US soldiers in an orchard after a tip-off.

Now it has been transported back to the museum it was stolen from in April, during heavy looting of the city.

The 20-centimetre high marble sculpture of a female head was of a number of priceless antiquities stolen.

US Captain Vance Kuhner said the mask was found after an intensive investigation by US troops and Iraqi police that led them to a farm just north of Baghdad.

The Warka Mask was discovered buried under six inches of dirt, but has remained intact.

Changed hands

"A tip-off came to the museum, we were given an address that led us to a juvenile, then an older man and eventually the culprit. Then it took a week of negotiations," Mr Kuhner said.

"It's pretty much untouched. We believe it changed hands several times after its theft. It is still in excellent condition."

The Lady of Warka was one of the most valuable exhibits stolen from the museum.

Authorities estimate more than 10,000 artefacts are still missing, but about 3,500 have been recovered.

Some pieces have been returned by Iraqi citizens who took them to keep them safe while the looting was happening, while others were found in vaults around Baghdad.

Any Iraqi antiquities would prove extremely difficult to sell because of the worldwide publicity surrounding the missing pieces and tight sanctions placed on the trading of any artefacts.

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