Federal prosecutors want ancient artifact purchased by Hobby Lobby returned to Iraq

The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was bought at an auction by Hobby Lobby to display at the Museum of the Bible. (Source: U.S. Department of Justice/CNN)

(CNN) – Federal authorities want an ancient tablet bought by arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby returned to Iraq.

Prosecutors filed a civil complaint this week to forfeit the roughly 3,500-year-old artifact known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet to U.S. authorities because they say it was brought into the country illegally.

Law enforcement agents seized it last year from the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. It has since been in the custody of the Department of Homeland Security in a secure warehouse.

Hobby Lobby, whose president is also chairman of the museum, bought the tablet in 2014 from Christie’s – an international auction house – for more than $1.6 million to display at the museum.

The tablet is inscribed with a portion of “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature.

Both Hobby Lobby and the museum say Christie’s lied to them about the artifact’s origins. Hobby Lobby is now suing them for fraud and breach of contract.

Christie’s said the illicit activity predated their involvement, and suggestions that they knew about the illegal import are “unsubstantiated.”

If the tablet is forfeited to the U.S., a division of the Department of Justice will decide where it will be returned.

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