WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will officially return a 3,500-year-old illegally imported tablet to Iraq this week, UNESCO, the United Nations cultural body, said on Monday.
The old tablet, which a wealthy American collector had acquired along with other Iraqi artifacts for display at the Washington Museum of the Bible, will be handed over to Iraqi officials at the Smithsonian Institution on September 23.
UNESCO called the repatriation of the tablet, along with 17,000 other artifacts returned to Iraq in July, “a significant victory in the fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural objects”.
“The theft and illicit trafficking of ancient artifacts continue to be a key source of funding for terrorist groups and other organized criminal organizations,” the Paris-based agency said in a statement.
He said that when the extremist Islamic State group controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria between 2014 and 2019, Iraqi archaeological sites and museums were systematically looted.
The rare fragment, which tells a dreamlike sequence from the epic of Gilgamesh in Akkadian cuneiform script, is one of many ancient artifacts from Iraq and the Middle East collected by David Green, the billionaire owner of the chain store Hobby Lobby craft.
It was seized by the US Department of Justice in 2019, two years after Green opened the museum dedicated to ancient Christian history in downtown Washington.