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Mesopotamian artefacts smuggled by Hobby Lobby returned to Iraq

Sumerian cuneiform tablets will be returned to their home [File photo: Getty]

Date of publication: 2 May, 2018

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US firm Hobby Lobby was fined $3million and agreed to forfeit the artefacts, which were smuggled out of the Middle East marked as "tile samples".
Thousands of Mesopotamian artefacts that were smuggled out of the Middle East by US company Hobby Lobby will be repatriated to Iraq on Wednesday.

The haul includes some 450 cuneiform tablets, thought to be 4,000 years old, and thousands of clay bullae which could be up to 2,300 years old.

The cache is part of thousands of looted artefacts purchased by Hobby Lobby for $1.6 million in December 2010.

Hobby Lobby is owned by the Green family who acquired a large collection of biblical antiquities to be displayed at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.

In July last year, the Iraqi artefacts were seized by the US government and the firm fined $3 million after it found the ancient scripts were smuggled from the Middle East after being intentionally mislabelled in order to mask their origin.

Federal prosecutors said the shipments to the Oklahoma-based arts and crafts company came from from the UAE and Israel in packages clearly marked as "tile samples".

Comment: Hobby Lobby settlement whitewashes cultural colonialism in Iraq

The firm's owner Steve Green previously said his company had made "regrettable mistakes," adding: "We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled".

The cuneiform tablets are believed to come from the ancient city of Irisagrig, a Sumerian city never excavated before and whose location has evaded scholars.

"The tablets, primarily from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE), are mostly legal and administrative documents," a statement from US Immigration and Customs Enforcements said.

The collection also includes "an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period".

The seized artefacts will be repatriated to Iraq on Wednesday, May 2, at the residence of the Iraqi ambassador to the United States.

During the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, US forces were widely accused of failing to protect the cultural antiquities of Iraq.

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