Hobby Lobby Agrees to Return Smuggled Artefacts to Iraq

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On Wednesday, Hobby Lobby took part in a ceremonial transfer of multiple smuggled artifacts to Iraq’s ambassador.

The arts and crafts chain bought the ancient seals and clay tablets from an unidentified dealer in 2010. Archeologists have argued that the artifacts had been looted from Iraqi archeological sites and think the ancient items belong to a museum.

Before returning home, the artifacts will have to reach Israel and the UAE, Hobby Lobby’s headquarters, the United States government, and (finally) Iraq. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which symbolically returned the artifacts to the Iraqi ambassador this week reported that there are thousands more of them.

 To have them in my residence is to underline that they’re coming home,

Ambassador Fareed Yasseen said.

A laboratory analysis revealed that the artifacts are as old as the second to third millennium B.C. They will be displayed and studied at the National Museum of Iraq. Some tablets were unearthed at the location of the long-lost Sumerian city, Irisagrig (2100-1600 B.C.)

The Artefacts Were Likely Stolen

Hobby Lobby bought the artifacts because of its keen interest in the history of the Bible. The chain made the controversial $1.6 million purchase in 2010. U.S. prosecutors found that the company inked the deal despite the many red flags suggesting the items had been stolen.

Even an expert hired by the company warned at the time that the artefacts had been likely looted from the country’s archeological locations. Since 2008, the U.S. government has returned to Iraq over 1,200 antiquities.

The ICE noted that stealing cultural property from a foreign country smells like organized transnational crime.

Hobby Lobby’s collection included Sumerian clay tablets, clay bullae, cuneiform tablets, and ancient seal impressions. Archeologists explained that the seals were likely used by the ancient world to ensure that a scroll or other item had not been tampered with.
Image Source: Wikimedia

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