Gilgamesh Dream Tablet One of 17,000 Looted Ancient Artifacts US Set to Return to Iraq
Tens of thousands of antiquities vanished from Iraq after the 2003 US invasion that toppled the country’s leader Saddam Hussein. Since then, Iraqi authorities have been trying to track down the nation's archaeological relics with the help of international agencies and have them returned.
The United States is to return over 17,000 ancient artifacts that were smuggled out of Iraq after the American invasion in 2003
, Iraq's Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said in a joint press conference with Culture Minister Hasan Nadhim.
Among them is a 3,500-year-old clay tablet inscribed with a portion of the Sumerian epic poem of Gilgamesh. Known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, it originated in modern-day Iraq and was brought illegally to the US, according to US federal prosecutors.
An agreement was recently concluded between US authorities and Iraq to return items seized from dealers and museums in the United States, underscored Hassan Nadhim.
"The US government seized some of the artifacts and sent them to the (Iraqi) embassy. The Gilgamesh tablet, the important one, will be returned to Iraq in the next month after legal procedures are finalised," said Nadhim.
According to the minister, the recovery was “the largest in the history of Iraq” and the result of months of effort between the government and Iraq’s Embassy in Washington.
“There’s still a lot of work ahead in this matter. There are still thousands of Iraqi artefacts smuggled outside the country. The United Nations resolutions are supporting us in the international community and the laws of other countries in which these artefacts are smuggled to are on our side... The smugglers are being trapped day after day by these laws and forced to hand over these artefacts,” he added.
Iraqi Cultural Heritage Decimated
The US maintained a troop presence in Iraq since March 2003, when tens of thousands of American forces were deployed as part of a larger effort to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Although troops were momentarily withdrawn under the Barack Obama administration, soldiers were eventually redeployed in 2014 with the emergence of the Daesh
* militant force.
During that time, tens of thousands of antiquities disappeared from the country, looted, smuggled or destroyed by Daesh
, which preached an intolerant interpretation of Islam that prompted the group to wreck historical sites on what UNESCO deplored was an "industrial" scale.
The terrorist organization, which had seized a third of Iraq’s territory between 2014 and 2017, before it was defeated by government and international forces, ran an extensive smuggling network through the Middle East and beyond to fund its operations. Thousands of artifacts are still missing.
Epic of Gilgamesh
Smuggled out of Iraq, auctioned and sold to Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain, to be displayed at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C, the Gilgamesh tablet was seized by US authorities in 2019, according to the Department of Justice. A court ordered its forfeiture in July.
It said that a US antiquities dealer had bought the tablet - “encrusted with dirt and unreadable” - from the family member of a London coin dealer in 2003.
The tablet bears an inscription of a portion of the epic poem of Gilgamesh - the 3,500-year-old Sumerian tale considered one of the world's first pieces of literature.
“This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin,” Jacquelyn Kasulis, acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was cited as saying.
*Daesh is a terrorist groups banned in Russia and many other countries.