The Repatriation of Yemeni Antiquities from the United States

The Repatriation of Yemeni Antiquities from the United States

February 21, 2023

The Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, DC, hosted today at the Yemen residence a ceremony for the repatriation of 77 pieces of stolen Yemeni artifacts which have been retrieved by U.S. law enforcement agencies and authorities.

Senior United States Government officials from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Homeland Security Investigations and Customs & Border Patrol), the U.S. Department of Justice through the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, and representatives of the Smithsonian Institution attended this special and historic occasion.

The artifacts include 65 relief carved stone heads characteristic of the funerary stelae of ancient Yemen in the second half of the 1st  millennium BCE;11 folios of an ancient Quran manuscript dating between 750 to 800 ACE (8th century), which were initially discovered during the 1972 renovations of the Grand Mosque in Sanaa; and a bronze inscribed bowl believed to have been excavated at Wadi Dura in Yemen (Shabwah) from the 3rd century ACE.

The repatriation of these items is the culmination of extensive work by the US Government in seeking, searching, and seizing these cultural heritage properties, and marks the first time in almost twenty years that Yemeni artifacts have been returned by the U.S. government to Yemen.

H.E. Mohammed Al-Hadhrami, the Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to the United States expressed his deep gratitude to the US Government, in particular to the Department of State, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for all efforts exerted in the retrieval and return of these Yemeni artifacts. He further said “Ever since the Houthis’ coup in Yemen, our heritage and history have been under attack. We will continue our close engagement with the U.S. Government in pursuit of the restitution of Yemen’s stolen cultural heritage and property. I also affirm my substantial appreciation to the Smithsonian Institution for agreeing to temporarily hold these antiquities until they are fully repatriated back to Yemen in the future.”

Moreover, the Embassy of Yemen has signed an agreement with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art to safeguard and protect these artifacts which will enter the custody and care of the museum on February 21, 2023. This is a two-year custodial agreement with the option to renew at the request of the Government of Yemen.

This repatriation is the first time in almost 20 years that the United States government has returned cultural property to Yemen. The previous repatriation was in 2004 and involved the return of a single funerary stele (carved stone) that took place in New York.

In addition to the Houthi militias, other terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have taken advantage of the current situation in Yemen by looting, smuggling, and trading in Yemeni antiquities.

The Embassy highly appreciates the efforts of the Government of the United States of America toward the restriction of the import of Yemeni antiquities into the United States and for their retrieval. This is an essential measure undertaken that will protect Yemen’s cultural property.

Click below for the Ceremony’s photo gallery :