DOJ: Hobby Lobby Forfeits Smuggled “Rare Cuneiform”

Via press release from the Justice Department:

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ordered the forfeiture of a rare cuneiform tablet bearing a portion of the epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian poem considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature.

Known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, it originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and entered the United States contrary to federal law.

An international auction house later sold the tablet to Hobby Lobby Stores, a prominent arts-and-crafts retailer based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for display at the Museum of the Bible. Law enforcement agents seized the tablet from the Museum in September 2019.

“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the U.S. art market,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

“Thwarting trade in smuggled goods by seizing and forfeiting an ancient artifact shows the department’s dedication to using all available tools, including forfeiture, to ensure justice.”

Last year the museum was accused of buying a rare papyrus allegedly stolen from Oxford University. Also last year, the museum was forced to acknowledge that the Dead Sea Scrolls on display were all fake. In 2019, the museum quietly removed its “Lunar Bible” exhibit after it was learned that its miniature bible had not actually been taken to the moon by an astronaut. The Green family has already paid millions in fines over antiquities smuggled out of Iraq.