Hobby Lobby’s forfeited Gilgamesh tablet returned to Iraq

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One of the oldest documented works of literature, carved on a cuneiform clay tablet, was returned to Iraq on Tuesday, years after it was looted from that country and later purchased by the owners of Hobby Lobby.

Iraqi authorities received the tablet in a ceremony held at the Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. UNESCO officials, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and Hassan Nadhem, Iraq’s minister of culture, tourism and antiquities, were in attendance, according to NBC.

The tablet, which features the poem of the mythological hero Gilgamesh, was purchased at auction in 2014 for $1.6 million by the owners of the arts and crafts chain stores.

The artifact was believed to have been stolen from a museum in Iraq in 1991. It was smuggled into the United States in 2007, according to UNESCO.

The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet which measures 6-by-5-inches, had been on display at the Museum of the Bible. The museum, located in Washington D.C., opened in 2017 and was led by Hobby Lobby chief executive Steve Green.

Once it was realized that the tablet had been stolen, it was seized by the U.S. government. In July, the tablet was forfeited by Green and arrangements were made to return it to Iraq.

Hobby Lobby sued Christie’s after the document was seized, alleging that the auction house sold the tablet knowing that it had been stolen, then smuggled out of Iraq.

According to the DOJ, the tablet was sold several times with a “false letter of provenance” before Hobby Lobby purchased it at Christie’s auction.

“This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin,” acting Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis said in a statement Tuesday. “This Office is committed to combating the black-market sale of cultural property and the smuggling of looted artifacts.”