The United States has returned part of the “epic of Gilgamesh” to the Republic of Iraq, the United States Department of Justice announced Thursday. The rare Sumerian poem was illegally transported out of its home country over a decade ago and is part of an ongoing operation to return thousands artifacts taken from Iraq and purchased by Hobby Lobby.

“We hope that the return of Gilgamesh’s Dream Tablet to the Republic of Iraq is a message to the Iraqi people and to the world, that the United States government will take action to seize and repatriate antiques and other important items. cultural heritage that have been illegally brought into the United States, ”said Kenneth A. Polite Jr., deputy attorney general of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, in a statement. declaration.

In 2003, the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was illegally smuggled into the United States from London by an antiquarian and cuneiform expert, the DOJ alleged in an amended complaint. Upon arrival in the United States, the tablet, which measures approximately 6 inches by 5 inches, was cleaned up and identified as part of the Gilgamesh epic. Written in the ancient extinct language of Akkadian, the tablet includes the part of the epic when the protagonist describes his dreams to his mother.

The dream tablet was subsequently sold several times after it was initially sold in 2007 with what the Justice Department claimed was a “fake letter of provenance.” It eventually ended up in an auction house in London, and in 2014 the auction house sold the tablet to Hobby Lobby for $ 1.6 million.

In July 2021, the Ministry of Justice ordered the confiscation from Gilgamesh, and Hobby Lobby agreed.

The arts and crafts retailer bought the tablet and thousands of others like it with the aim of displaying some at the Bible Museum, which the founder of Hobby Lobby helps fund. According to the Ministry of Justice, the Dream Tablet was seized from the museum by the police in 2019.

On Thursday, a repatriation ceremony was held at the American Indian Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC

“Today Iraq is reclaiming part of its cultural history,” said Special Agent in Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations New York. “We are honored to have played a role in repatriating this rare tablet that was looted from Iraq, only to be sold without valid provenance and with no regard for its cultural value.”


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