BAGHDAD (AP) – A small clay tablet dating back 3,500 years ago containing part of the epic of Gilgamesh that was stolen from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago and recently discovered in the United States, formally returned to Iraq on Tuesday.
The $ 1.7 million cuneiform tablet, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, is one of the oldest extant literary works in the world and one of the oldest religious texts. It was found in 1853 as part of a collection of 12 tablets in the ruins of the library of Assyrian king Assur Banipal.
The plaque was stolen from an Iraqi museum during the 1991 Gulf War. Officials believe it was smuggled into the United States in 2003, then sold to the Hobby Lobby and eventually displayed at its Museum of the Bible in Washington.
READ MORE: Stolen Mesopotamian Tablet Acquired by Hobby Lobby Finally Returns to Iraq
Federal Domestic Security agents removed the tablet from the museum in September 2019. A federal judge in New York approved the seizure of the tablet in July this year.
The plaque was handed over to the Iraqi authorities on Tuesday at a ceremony at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry in the presence of UNESCO officials, as well as Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein and Hassan Nadhem, Iraqi Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities.
“We managed to find about 17,926 artifacts from several countries, namely America, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the Netherlands,” Hussein said.
UNESCO described the restoration of the valuable artifact as the culmination of decades of cooperation between the United States and Iraq, which signed the 1970 UNESCO Convention.