Ancient clay tablet from Assyrian king going back to Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) — A 3,500-year-old clay tablet discovered in the ruins of the library of an ancient Middle Eastern king, then looted from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago, is finally headed back to Iraq.

The USD1.7 million cuneiform clay tablet was found in 1853 as part of a 12-tablet collection in the rubble of the library of Assyrian King Assur Banipal. Officials believe it was illegally imported into the United States (US) in 2003, then sold to Hobby Lobby and eventually put on display in the nation’s capital.

Federal agents with Homeland Security Investigations seized the tablet — known as the Gilgamesh Dream tablet — from the museum in September 2019. Months later, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, began a civil forfeiture court proceeding that resulted in the repatriation.

It’s part of an increasing effort by authorities in the US and around the world to return antiquities pilfered from their home countries.

In years past, such items probably would never have made it back. The black market for these relics is vast, as are criminal networks and smugglers dealing in stolen items and falsifying ownership data.

A 3,500-year-old artefact, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet. PHOTO: AP