After Hobby Lobby was ordered to forfeit the ‘Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,’ the US obtained it.
Due to the illicit nature of the sale, Hobby Lobby, which purchased a 3,500-year-old tablet believed to contain a piece of the Epic of Gilgamesh, was ordered by a United States district judge on Monday to relinquish the relic.
In a private sale in 2014, a London auction company sold the relic, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, to Hobby Lobby. According to the US government’s letter of complaint, the auction house had previously purchased the tablet together with a forged letter of provenance that had been used by dealers to unlawfully traffick the relic many times. The United States plans to restore the tablet to Iraq, which is located in the region where it was produced.
Acting United States Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis for the Eastern District of New York remarked, “This forfeiture represents a critical milestone on the route of returning this unique and ancient gem of world literature to its nation of origin.” “This office is dedicated to fighting the smuggling of looted antiquities and the black-market selling of cultural property.”
According to the authorities, a U.S. antiquities dealer purchased the tablet in London in 2003 without knowing what it was and illegally brought it to the United States without declaring it.
The dealer constructed a bogus letter of provenanceâ€”an explanation of a historical artifact’s origins that is necessary to sell it as an antiqueâ€”after cleaning it, identifying the old Sumerian text, Akkadian, and realizing the great historical value of this portion of the Gilgamesh epic. Over the course of numerous exchanges, this bogus letter followed the six-by-five-inch cuniform tablet.
It’s unclear whether either the London auction house or Hobby Lobby were aware of the tablet’s forged documentation. Hobby Lobby was contacted for comment, but no response was received in time for publication.
Hobby Lobby, which had the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet on display at the Museum of the Bible from 2014 to 2019, when it was seized, agreed to the forfeiture after evidence of the tablet’s illegal entry into the United States in 2003 and 2014.
The forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet illustrates the Department’s sustained commitment to removing smuggled cultural property from the United States art market, according to Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. This is a condensed version of the information.