A 3,500-year-old clay tablet acquired by Hobby Lobby in 2014 is being returned to Iraq on Thursday, The Associated Press reported.
The $1.7 million artifact, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, is part of a 12-tablet collection found in the ruins of the library of Assyrian King Assur Banipal. It was discovered in 1853 in modern-day Iraq.
The tablet was illegally transported to the United States in 2003 and sold to Hobby Lobby in 2014 by an international auction house to be displayed at Hobby Lobby’s Museum of the Bible.
The company was fined $3 million in 2017 after authorities alleged it had bought thousands of historical artifacts smuggled out of Iraq.
Federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations seized the tablet in 2019 and are now returning it to Iraq.
“By returning these illegally acquired objects, the authorities here in the United States and in Iraq are allowing the Iraqi people to reconnect with a page in their history,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, according to the AP. “This exceptional restitution is a major victory over those who mutilate heritage and then traffic it to finance violence and terrorism.”
Homeland Security Investigations have returned more than 15,000 items in 40 countries, including at least 5,000 artifacts to Iraq since 2008, the AP noted.