Baghdad, Iraq The world-famous treasures of Nimrud, unaccounted for since Baghdad fell two months ago, have been located in good condition in the country's Central Bank -- in a secret vault-inside-a-vault submerged in sewage water, U.S. occupation authorities said Saturday.
They also said fewer than 50 items from the collection of the Iraqi National Museum's main exhibition are still missing after the looting and destruction that came after the U.S. capture of Baghdad.
The artifacts -- gold earrings, finger and toe rings, necklaces, plates, bowls and flasks, many of them elaborately engraved and set with semiprecious stones or enamel -- were found Thursday when the vault was opened, according to an official of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the official name of the U.S.-led occupation force.
He said they were "largely unscathed," though it was unclear if the sewage water caused any damage at all.
The Nimrud treasures date back to about 900 B.C. They were discovered by Iraqi archaeologists in the late 1980s in four royal tombs at the site of the ancient city of Nimrud near Mosul in northern Iraq.
The treasures, one of the 20th century's most significant archaeological finds, have not been seen in public since the early 1990s. Their discovery will help assuage the worries of archaeologists concerning the country's ancient treasures.
Nimrud, destroyed in 612 B.C., was the second capital of Assyria, an ancient kingdom that sat partly in what is today Iraq. The discovery of the treasures in the royal tombs surprised archaeologists at the time, because members of the royal family were thought to be buried only in the holy city of Assur.
"Early inspection of the pieces suggest that they are in good condition," said the provisional authority. It said a team from the British Museum will join Iraqi experts to find the best way to protect them.
The coalition official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at a briefing that the number of artifacts looted or lost from the Iraqi National Museum after the fall of Baghdad was significantly exaggerated.
Of the 170,000 initially thought to be missing, 3,000 remain unaccounted for.