search

US to formally return 3,500-year-old ‘Gilgamesh’ tablet to Iraq

UNESCO hails return of artifact, which was looted during Islamic State rule and then illegally imported to the US, as ‘a significant victory’

Illustrative: Ancient artifacts, smuggled into the US in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby stores, are shown at an event returning the artifacts to Iraq, on May 2, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Illustrative: Ancient artifacts, smuggled into the US in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby stores, are shown at an event returning the artifacts to Iraq, on May 2, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States will formally return an illegally imported 3,500-year-old tablet recounting the epic of Gilgamesh to Iraq this week, the United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO announced on Monday.

The ancient tablet, which a wealthy US collector had acquired along with other Iraqi artifacts to display in the Washington Museum of the Bible, will be handed over to Iraqi officials at the Smithsonian Institution on September 23.

UNESCO called the repatriation of the tablet, along with 17,000 other artifacts sent back to Iraq in July, “a significant victory in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.”

“The theft and illicit trafficking of ancient artifacts continues to be a key funding source for terrorist groups and other organized criminal organizations,” the Paris-based agency said in a statement.

It said that when the Islamic State extremist group controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2019, Iraqi archaeological sites and museums were systematically looted.

The rare fragment, which recounts a dream sequence from the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian cuneiform script, is one of many ancient artifacts from Iraq and the Middle East collected by David Green, the billionaire owner of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain.

It was seized by the US Justice Department in 2019, two years after Green opened the museum dedicated to ancient Christian history in downtown Washington.

read more:
comments
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed