(FiveNation.com)- One of the more unseemly aspects of the US war in Iraq and the subsequent takeover of ISIS was the wholesale theft and sale of Iraqi antiquities. In the early days of the US invasion of Iraq, 15,000 artifacts were plundered from the National Museum during a four-day period in April 2003.
And while the thefts of antiquities began after the US invasion of Iraq, they kicked into hyperdrive after ISIS moved in. Islamic State, while posting videos showing them purportedly destroying some of these antiquities, were in reality selling the artifacts on the black market. Holy wars require funding after all.
Most of the artifacts were smuggled into Europe and sold to dealers willing to turn a blind eye to how they were obtained.
Muthanna Abed Dawad, former director of Iraq’s Antiquities Recovery Department, has documents confirming 200 of Iraq’s most treasured antiquities are circulating throughout the global antiquities market. One such treasure, the “Guennol Lioness” from the Babylonian era was purchased by a British lord for $59.2 million.
Among those who have purchased these black market artifacts is the US company Hobby Lobby. In 2018 it was reported that Hobby Lobby had purchased over 5,000 Iraqi artifacts that had been smuggled into the US and shipped to Hobby Lobby stores. 3,800 of those antiquities were returned to Iraq and Hobby Lobby agreed to pay a $3 million fine.
And on Tuesday, the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York ordered the forfeiture of another artifact in Hobby Lobby’s possession – an ancient Sumerian tablet bearing a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh in cuneiform script.
The tablet was purchased by a US-based antiquities dealer in 2003 and smuggled into the US. That dealer then sold the tablet in 2007 inside a box of other miscellaneous artifacts. The sale included falsified documents claiming the antiquities were all acquired in a 1981 auction. The priceless table was sold and resold around the world multiple times before it was purchased by Hobby Lobby at a London auction house in 2014. Hobby Lobby purchased the tablet to display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC – a museum largely funded by Hobby Lobby.
But in September 2019, federal law enforcement seized the Gilgamesh tablet on suspicion that it was illegally imported. Which, of course, it was.
According to the Department of Justice, Hobby Lobby has agreed to forfeit the tablet as ordered by the court.