The United States returned a 3,500-year-old clay tablet in a ceremony Thursday to Iraq, to which the historically valuable artifact belongs. The Americans stole the tablet, perhaps the oldest evidence of literature on Earth, from an Iraqi museum around 1991 during the Gulf War.
Although it is a small piece measuring 12 x 15 cm, the cuneiform clay tablet has enormous cultural and historical value. The item was received by the Iraqi Minister of Culture, Hassan Nazim. “For me, this means restoring confidence in Iraqi society,” he said.
Fragment of the Epic of Gilgamesh written on a clay tablet in the Sumerian language. The epic of three thousand lines of poetry is one of the oldest stories in human history. The story dates back to around 2100 BC and is about a great king who seeks immortality. They were first distributed orally and then transcribed into eleven clay tablets. Later, a twelfth clay tablet with a story about the underworld was added. The epic was a source of inspiration for Homer Despair employment odyssey, The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said: Washington Post. The Hebrew Bible also bears similarities to the story.
The return of the clay tablet is, according to Azoulay, “a great victory for the international community.”
The 3,500-year-old piece appeared on the London art market in 2001 via a Jordanian antique dealer, after which it ended up in the United States via various art dealers. The tablet was previously displayed as a masterpiece at the American Museum of the Bible.
The museum has maintained close links with the Hobby Lobby arts and crafts chain. It was the owner of that chain who bought the tablet in 2014 for $1.67 million (about 1.4 million euros) from auction house Christie’s. It later turned out that the source papers were forged. The true value of the item wasn’t revealed until 2019. CNN The museum is reported to be supporting the return of the tablet and the Hobby Lobby has been fined millions of dollars.
Minister Nazim called on the organizations to continue to actively search for the true origin of art, in an effort to rediscover the lost treasures of antiquity. Hobby Lobby admitted not doing so. Earlier this year, 17,000 artifacts stolen by the United States, 12,000 of them from the Museum of the Bible, were returned to Iraq.
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