Federal authorities on Tuesday have seized a 3,500-year-old clay tablet containing part of the Epic of Gilgamesh from craft store Hobby Lobby after it was smuggled into the US.
Brooklyn federal court Judge Ann Donnelly ordered the forfeiture on Monday.
The rare artifact, known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,” originated in what is now modern-day Iraq. It contained a part of a Sumerian poem considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature in the Akkadian language.
Officials said a US antiquities dealer purchased the tablet in 2003 in London. The dealer then shipped it to the US without declaring the contents and sold it with a “false provenance letter.”
Christian arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby eventually bought the tablet after changing hands several times from an auction house for more than $1.67m (£1.2m) in 2014.
The forfeiture is part of efforts to return thousands of smuggled ancient Iraqi artifacts that were purchased by Hobby Lobby.
Iraqi Culture Minister Hassan Nazim announced on Wednesday that the US had agreed to return 17,000 looted artifacts, most of them dating back to the same era as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet.
Nazim described the recovery of the antiquities as a “great event” and expressed hope that in the near future, Iraq would be able to recover other treasures, particularly those in Europe.
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