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Federal Judges Orders Forfeiture Of Hobby Lobby's Gilgamesh Tablet

Hobby Lobby bought the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet for more than $1.6 million in 2014.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Hobby Lobby bought the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet for more than $1.6 million in 2014.

A federal judge on Monday ordered the forfeiture of a roughly 3,500-year-old cuneiform tablet purchased by Hobby Lobby.

The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet features the inscription of a Sumerian poem, and is considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature.

"This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin," said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis for the Eastern District of New York. "This office is committed to combating the black-market sale of cultural property and the smuggling of looted artifacts."

Federal prosecutors say the historical item was brought illegally into the U.S. in 2003 and again in 2014, after Hobby Lobby purchased it from an international auction house. It was allegedly sold using a false provenance letter, obscuring its real history of ownership.

In 2019, federal agents seized the clay tablet from the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. — a museum founded by Hobby Lobby’s owners.

The Oklahoma-based arts and crafts store chain was fined $3 million in 2017 after authorities accused the company of buying thousands of artifacts that had been smuggled out of Iraq.

Officials say the tablet will be returned to its original home in Iraq.

Kateleigh Mills was the Special Projects reporter for KOSU from 2019 to 2024.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
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