Photo Credit: Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
The 2,700-year-old cosmetic spoon that the U.S. gave to the Palestinian Authority.

It’s not clear why the artifact should have been given to the Palestinian Authority which has no cultural or historical connection to the object or the region.

American and Palestinian Authority officials gathered on Thursday at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Bethlehem for what was described as “the historic repatriation of a rare Palestinian cultural object.”


During the ceremony, the Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm (Homeland Security Investigations) delivered a 2,700-year-old cosmetic spoon to the Palestinian Authority. The ancient tool is carved from ivory and has an etched winged figure into its front side. It was used to ladle incense onto fires and braziers at rites venerating the gods and the dead.

PA Minister of Tourism Rula Maayah welcomed the U.S. delegation.

“This artifact is important as it acquires its real scientific and archaeological value in its authentic location,” Maayah said. “The artifact that is being delivered today is a cosmetic tool that was used to pour incense and it dates to the Assyrian civilization 700-800 BC.”

According to Wikipedia:

The Assyrian captivity (or the Assyrian exile) is the period in the history of ancient Israel and Judah during which several thousand Israelites from the Kingdom of Israel were forcibly relocated by the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

The later Assyrian rulers Sargon II and his son and successor, Sennacherib, were responsible for finishing the twenty-year demise of Israel’s northern ten-tribe kingdom, although they did not overtake the Kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem was besieged, but not taken. The tribes forcibly resettled by Assyria later became known as the Ten Lost Tribes.

The captivities began in approximately 740 BCE (or 733/2 BCE according to other sources).

And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day. (1 Chronicles 5:26)

In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and he took Ijon, and Abel Beth Maacah, and Janoah, and Kedesh and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria. (2 Kings 15:29)

In 722 BCE, ten to twenty years after the initial deportations, the ruling city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, was finally taken by Sargon II after a three-year siege started by Shalmaneser V.

It was only in the mid-20th century that Arabs actually began using the term “Palestinian” to self-identify. The vast majority of Arabs only immigrated to the area after the larger-scale return of Jews began in the 1800s, which is what made the region economically viable and attractive to the Arab immigrants.

The artifact was seized from Jewish-American billionaire Michael Steinhardt as part of a criminal probe in New York. As part of a deal to avoid prosecution, Steinhardt agreed in late 2021 to turn over $70 million worth of stolen antiquities that authorities claim were illegally acquired in Israel.

Officials say the cosmetic spoon first surfaced on the international art market in January 2003, when Steinhardt bought it from an Israeli antiques dealer who has been accused of dealing in illicit Israeli and Middle Eastern antiquities.

As pointed out in the history above, there is no indication as to what makes this object culturally “Palestinian”. Yet the head of the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs, George Noll, stated that his office “is proud to facilitate the return of this rare antiquity, an example of Palestinian cultural patrimony.”

“This is a historic moment between the American and Palestinian people and a demonstration of our belief in the power of cultural exchanges in building mutual understanding, respect, and partnership,” said Noll.

Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New York Ivan J. Arvelo said, “Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage. We are honored to join our partners today in the historic repatriation of this artifact to the Palestinian Authority.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg added, “We are proud to join our law enforcement and government partners in this historic moment.”


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