Hundreds Of Ancient Tablets Smuggled To The US From Mysterious Lost City

The tablets are thought to be from the ancient Sumerian lost city of Irisagrig. US Attorney's Office Eastern District of New York

Josh Davis 02 May 2018, 17:00

Last year, the US company Hobby Lobby was accused of illegally smuggling thousands of ancient tablets out of Iraq for their newly built Biblical museum in Washington DC. It now turns out that many of these ancient artifacts were likely made in the mysterious Sumerian city of Irisagrig, the location of which is still not even known to historians.

In 2010, it understood that Hobby Lobby bought over 5,500 ancient Iraqi artifacts for an estimated $1.6 million. The objects included many clay cuneiform tablets, bullae, and cylinder seals, and were destined for the enormous private collection of the company’s founder and President, David Green. Thought to be one of the largest collections of Biblical artifacts, Green has helped set up a new Museum of the Bible.  

But last year, the US government seized these latest acquisitions which were labeled simply as “tile samples” under suspicion that they were bought illegally. Among the thousands of objects in the haul, 4,000-year-old tablets thought to be from the city of Irisagrig were discovered.  

Even historians don't know where the city is located. U.S. Attorney's Office Eastern District of New York

“The tablets, primarily from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE), are mostly legal and administrative documents,” the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are reportedly said in a statement.

Sumerian is the language of the Sumar, the earliest known civilization in southern Mesopotamia, now modern-day southern Iraq. The city of Irisagrig, however, has been a persistent mystery to archaeologists and historians for quite some time. Despite multiple references to the city spanning hundreds of years, the earliest of which dates to the third millennium BCE, no one has been able to locate where exactly it stood. Even with a whole host of cuneiform tablets talking about the city and the people who lived there scholars have been unable to piece it all together.

It now seems, however, that looters have beaten them to it. Before, during, and after the chaos of the 2003 Iraq War, many ancient archaeological sites both known and unknown were raided, and the artifacts that were excavated illegally sold to private collectors around the world. It appears that Hobby Lobby was one of these customers.

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said last year in a statement when the case first came to light. “Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today’s settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved.”

The artifacts are now destined to be sent back to Iraq, while researchers might hopefully be able to finally figure out exactly where Irisagrig is located.

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