- The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, a portion of the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh, is returning to Iraq on Thursday.
- The ancient tablet was stolen from Iraq and smuggled into the US, where it was acquired by Hobby Lobby.
- The DOJ seized the tablet from Hobby Lobby in July.
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The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet – a 3,600-year-old artifact that contains a portion of the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh‘ – is being returned to Iraq this Thursday after it was stolen from the country in 1991.
After the ancient artifact was stolen, it was smuggled into the US and sold at auction, where it was then acquired by the craft superstore Hobby Lobby. The company put the cuneiform tablet on display at its Museum of the Bible until the Department of Justice seized the artifact in 2019.
The formal handover will take place on Thursday in a ceremony at the Smithsonian Institute, where the US will also repatriate 17,000 other artifacts that were looted from Iraq and sold in the US.
“The restitution of this valuable artifact is the culmination of decades of cooperation between states such as the United States and Iraq who are both signatories of UNESCO’s 1970 Convention, which provides countries with the legal and practical framework to prevent illicit trafficking, and to ensure that recovered items are returned to their rightful place,” a UNESCO press release said.
Hobby Lobby did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The tablet is made of clay and contains part of the ancient Sumerian poem the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” which is one of the world’s oldest pieces of literature.
The Museum of the Bible was founded and funded by Hobby Lobby’s billionaire Christian evangelical president Steven Green, and in 2017, the craft chain paid a $US3 ($AU4) million fine and agreed to give up thousands of ancient artifacts that had been illegally smuggled into the US.
However, collecting looted artifacts is only one of arts-and-craft store’s many controversies in recent years, which include denying employees access to contraceptives, displaying fake Dead See Scroll fragments in the Museum of the Bible, and illegally re-opening stores despite state lockdown measures during the pandemic.