Iraq foreign ministry announced on Tuesday it will receive back from the US authorities two stolen artifacts dating back more than 4,000 years this week, without providing more details about the pieces or how they reached the US.
The pieces – cuneiform tablet from the ancient Sumerian city of Ur and a rare cuneiform pamphlet from Babylon, major cities in ancient Mesopotamia, south of Baghdad – are made of clay, the ministry’s spokesman Ahmed Al Sahaf said.
Ur is mentioned in the Bible as the birthplace of Prophet Abraham, where wealthy empires flourished, while Babylon is famous for its hanging gardens.
Al Sahaf added that to mark the handover, an official celebration ceremony will be held at the Iraqi Consulate in Los Angeles on Thursday.
These two antiquities are the latest Iraq has retrieved from the US and other countries in its long-running struggle to return its cultural trove stolen from Iraq’s archaeological sites and museums that were badly affected by the lack of security and mismanagement during the decades of war.
More than 17,000 ancient artifacts were returned from the US last year after being looted and smuggled out of Iraq and onto the black market after the 2003 US invasion and the Gulf War in the 1990s
The priceless relics included a 3,500-year-old clay tablet that bears part of the Epic of Gilgamesh – the oldest known surviving piece of literature – also known as the Dream Tablet and is written in the Sumerian language.
The US DOJ said at the time that authorities have seized the Gilgamesh tablet in 2019 which, after being smuggled, was auctioned and sold to an art dealer in Oklahoma and was later displayed at a museum in Washington DC
The Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of arts and crafts shops, where many of the objects taken from Iraq were seized, was forced to relinquish artifacts. It was also fined $3 million for failing to declare its provenance to the authorities or to act on expert advice that the items may have been looted.