Ancient Buddhist clay heads and other precious artefacts looted from Iraq and Afghanistan and illegally exported to the UK will soon be returned to their country of origin.
The British Museum is working with the UK Border Force and other agencies to help to return the items seized during recent conflicts.
Among the objects due to be returned are a series of Buddhist sculptures, which had been taken illegally from Afghanistan and intercepted at Heathrow Airport in September 2002 shortly after leaving the Pakistani city of Peshawar.
A group of nine heads sculptured in clay feature a portrayal of Buddha, the turbaned heads of meditating bodhisattvas, the bald head of a monk and three larger heads, including one possibly depicting Vajrapani – the spiritual guide of Buddha.
The artefacts – dating between the fourth and sixth centuries AD – will be returned to the National Museum of Afghanistan after they go on temporary display in London, with the permission of the Afghan museum.
Among the items to be returned to Iraq is a collection of tablets bearing cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing.