The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Tuesday it recovered the ancient Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, part of the epic of Gilgamesh, from arts and crafts superstore Hobby Lobby.
“The epic of Gilgamesh is considered one of the most ancient works of literature and originally comes from Iraq,” Business Insider reported.
The DOJ said the tablet was smuggled into the United States, and an auction house sold it to Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. The company reportedly displayed the tablet at the Museum of the Bible.
“Law enforcement seized the tablet from the museum in 2019,” the outlet said.
The DOJ detailed the events in its press release:
As alleged in the government’s amended complaint, in 2003, a U.S. antiquities dealer (the Antiquities Dealer) purchased the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, encrusted with dirt and unreadable, from the family member of a London coin dealer. The Antiquities Dealer and a U.S. cuneiform expert shipped the tablet into the United States by international post without declaring the contents as required. After the tablet was imported and cleaned, experts in cuneiform recognized it as bearing a portion of the Gilgamesh epic. The tablet measures approximately 6 inches by 5 inches and is written in the Akkadian language.
The amended complaint further alleged that, in 2007, the Antiquities Dealer sold the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet with a false provenance letter stating that the tablet had been inside a box of miscellaneous ancient bronze fragments purchased in a 1981 auction. This false letter traveled with the tablet as it was sold several times in different countries, and a later owner provided the letter to the Auction House in London.
The Auction House sold the tablet to Hobby Lobby in 2014 during a private sale, and an auction worker carried it on a flight from London to the U.S. where it was eventually transferred to New York.
“Hobby Lobby consented to the tablet’s forfeiture based on the tablet’s illegal importations into the United States in 2003 and 2014,” the DOJ concluded.