The Department on Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday announced that the U.S. had acquired rare, cuneiform tablets from Hobby Lobby after it was discovered that the auction house that sold them had done so under false provenance.
The tablets, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, originated in what is now modern-day Iraq and depict the Sumerian poem of Gilgamesh, considered to be among the world's oldest works of literature. This tablet was sold to Hobby Lobby in 2014 by an international auction house to be displayed at Hobby Lobby's Museum of the Bible.
The antiquities dealer who sold the artifact, Jordanian Antiquities Association, had the tablet shipped to the U.S. in 2003 without properly declaring the contents as was required, and wrongfully claimed that they had found it in a box of miscellaneous fragments in 1981.
After curators at the Museum of the Bible discovered the origins of the tablet, they alerted the Embassy of Iraq. Federal investigators determined last year that the tablet should be returned to Iraq.
Authorities seized the tablet in 2019.
“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the U.S. art market,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in the release.
“Thwarting trade in smuggled goods by seizing and forfeiting an ancient artifact shows the department’s dedication to using all available tools, including forfeiture, to ensure justice," Polite added.
The Hill has reached out to Hobby Lobby for comment.
Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 after authorities alleged the company had bought thousands of historical artifacts that had been smuggled out of Iraq.
The Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Unit for Homeland Security Investigations is also investigating the case.