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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 10:20 GMT
Lion sculpture gets record price
Guennol Lioness
The Guennol Lioness was discovered at a site near Baghdad
A tiny limestone figure of a lion from ancient Mesopotamia has sold at auction for $57m (28m), almost double the previous record price for a sculpture.

The 8.3cm (3.25in) tall Guennol Lioness is thought to have been carved 5,000 years ago in what is now Iraq and Iran.

The lion, whose new owner has not been identified, had been on loan to the Brooklyn Museum of Art for 59 years.

The previous record for a sculpture was set last month when Pablo Picasso's Tete de Femme was sold for $29m.

A 2,000-year-old Roman bronze sold for $28m in June, the previous record price for an antiquity sold at auction.

'Storied figure'

The ancient carving, which was found at a site near Baghdad, was acquired in 1948 by Alastair and Edith Martin and formed part of their Guennol Collection.

The proceeds of the sale will benefit a charitable trust formed by the Martin Family.

This storied figure, in its brilliant combination of an animal form and human pose, has captured the imagination of academics and the public
Richard Keresey

Before the auction in New York on Wednesday, the head of Sotheby's antiquities department, Richard Keresey, described the figure as a "brilliant combination of animal form and human pose".

"The successful bidder.. will have the distinction of owning one of the oldest, rarest and most beautiful works of art from the ancient world," he added.

The buyer, who wished to remain anonymous, entered the bidding at $27m, already $9m more than what the sculpture had been expected to fetch.

Mesopotamia, which was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, has been called the "cradle of civilisation" because agriculture, animal herding and domestication developed there earlier than anywhere else, almost 8,000 years ago.

By 3000 BC, the Mesopotamians had already invented the wheel, developed writing, and created the world's first cities and monumental architecture.

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