On 22 April 1917 the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force captured Samarra, some 80 miles north of Baghdad. There, the military authorities made a discovery that triggered another battle of Samarra: an archaeological one.
In an old building in Samarra the British troops found about 90 cases of antiquities, left there by the German archaeologists who had been excavating the site in 1914, Ernst Herzfeld and Friedrich Sarre.
These antiquities came to the attention of the Foreign Office in the summer of 1918, at a time when officials were increasingly aware of the importance of antiquities and ancient monuments. When it appeared that orders had been issued for the despatch of the Samarra antiquities to London, the Foreign Office protested vigorously. ‘It would be as bad,’ they wrote, ‘as the Germans removing the art treasures from Belgium and France’ (FO 371/3410). Continue reading »