Museums: The Great Assyrian Affair

Ever since the Los Angeles County Museum opened a year ago, a massive assemblage (8 ft. by 251 ft.) of dark alabaster Assyrian reliefs has stood proudly in the marble foyer. Admired by the museum's 2,000,000 visitors, the carved stone reliefs date back 27 centuries to the days when they graced the palace of Nimrud's King Ashurnasirpal. In Los Angeles, they seemed a perfect museum piece, just right for the space they occupied.

In fact, the Assyrian reliefs were anything but permanent, since the museum did not own them. Behind the scenes in recent months, ownership had been transferred to...

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