Could A British Museum Artifact Really Be Cursed? #JovanHuttonPulitzer

An unknown author inscribed a curse onto an Assyrian stele in 800 BC. The stele was eventually broken in two – one half ended up in the hands of the British Museum and the other in Bonhams auction house. It was something of a surprise when news broke in 2014 that the British Museum decided against purchasing the second half of the rare artifact.

The fragment of the stele in the British Museum’s collection was found in 1879 in Dur-Katlimmu (modern Sheikh Hamad) in Syria. It was formed in basalt to commemorate a military achievement of King Adad-Nirari III. The British Museum has the top of the statue with the image of the king’s head in their portion of the stele. They had bought it from a private collector in 1881.

The lower portion of the stele was put up for auction by a private collector in Bonhams in London in 2014. The piece was estimated to fetch £ 600,000 – 800,000 (US$ 830,000 – 1,100,000) but was withdrawn. No information was provided at the time by the auctioneers regarding when or how the stele fragment had left Syria. They only reported the artifact as having been gifted “from father to son in the 1960s.” The lack of detail led many experts and the authorities to wonder if the artifact had been illegally removed from Syria.

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