On August 3, over 17,000 ancient artifacts looted and smuggled out of Iraq were returned to their country of origin – which officials have called Iraq’s largest ever return of antiquities.
Artifacts have been returned to Iraq from the US, Japan, Italy, and the Netherlands. Around 12,000 of the artifacts were held in the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC, the New York Times reports.
Many ancient Mesopotamian artifacts dating back up to 4,000 years – some of which came from a mysterious lost city – were looted or even destroyed in the disorder following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. More still met the same fate at the hands of ISIS.
On July 27, the US Department of Justice announced that arts and crafts retail company Hobby Lobby was ordered to forfeit an ancient tablet inscribed with a section of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world’s oldest works of literature.
The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet is among thousands of smuggled artifacts purchased by Hobby Lobby – some of which ended up being forgeries.
The company purchased the tablet with the intent to display it in the Museum of the Bible, Washington DC, of which Hobby Lobby’s president Steve Green is Chairman of the Board. The tablet may have been of interest due to similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and parts of the Bible, notably the flood myth.
The 3,500-year-old tablet, measuring 15.2 centimeters by 12.7 centimeters (6 inches by 5 inches), contains a dream sequence from the historic poem inscribed in cuneiform script, the world’s oldest known form of writing.
“This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin,” said Acting US Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis for the Eastern District of New York in a statement.
“The Gilgamesh tablet, the important one, will be returned to Iraq in the next month after legal procedures are finalized,” Iraq’s Culture Minister Hassan Nadhim told Reuters. In the meantime, the tablet is being stored in a federal warehouse in Brooklyn, according to the New York Times.
Although these thousands of ancient artifacts from Iraq have made it home safe, thousands more are still missing.
“There’s still a lot of work ahead in this matter,” Nadhim said.