WASHINGTON — It was looted from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago. Now, a 3,500-year-old clay tablet discovered in the ruins of the library of an ancient Middle Eastern king is finally headed back to Iraq.
The relic is known as the Gilgamesh Dream tablet. The tablet was written in cuneiform, the ancient language of Akkadian, and dates from around 1500 B.C.
The text includes a section of the epic of Gilgamesh, a poem written at least 4,000 years ago.
Officials believe it was illegally looted from Iraq and imported into the United States in 2003. According to NPR, the tablet traded hands between antiquities dealers a handful of times over the next decade until 2014.
That's when Christie's auction house sold the Gilgamesh Dream tablet to the craft store chain, Hobby Lobby.
Hobby Lobby is owned by the Green family, who also owns the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. The family moved the tablet to the museum upon its purchase.
Federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations seized the tablet from the museum in September 2019. In July, a federal judge approved the forfeiture of the tablet, clearing the way for it to be returned to Iraq.
The artifact will be repatriated later Thursday at a ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
"By returning these illegally acquired objects, the authorities here in the United States and in Iraq are allowing the Iraqi people to reconnect with a page in their history," UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement.