Million-Dollar 'Gilgamesh Dream Tablet' Looted During Gulf War Finally Returned to Iraq

A 3,500-year-old tablet has been returned to Iraq after being looted during the Gulf War.

The cuneiform tablet is considered to be part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest surviving religious texts in the world. Given the nickname "The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet," it tells the story of five dreams that Gilgamesh has while performing a ritual.

It, along with the other tablets containing the story, was part of Assyrian King Ashurbanipal's extensive library before it was torn down. The tablet was recovered in 1853 and placed in a museum.

Then, during the Gulf War, military forces invaded Iraq. It is unclear exactly when the tablet was stolen, although experts estimate anywhere between 1991 and 2003. The latter year was when the tablet was illegally imported into the United States.

It bounced around sellers and was sold many times at auctions around the world. In 2007, its seller went so far as to forge a letter saying that the tablet was found in 1981 in a box of bronze fragments.

Gilgamesh Dream Tablet
A recovered clay tablet from the United States is displayed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Baghdad, Iraq, on December 7, 2021. The 3,500-year-old tablet bearing a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh that was looted from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago was formally returned to Iraq on Monday. AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

The tablet was then put into Hobby Lobby's Museum of The Bible in Washington, D.C. The controversial arts and crafts dealer purchased it in 2014 and paid more than $1.67 million for it at auction.

Investigations into the history of the mysterious tablet began in 2017, and neither the museum nor Hobby Lobby could provide information about its origins or history. It stayed at the museum until September of 2019, when it was confiscated by Homeland Security Investigations.

It wasn't until this year that the confiscation was made public, and the tablet's forfeiture back to Iraq was approved in July. From its tumultuous history, the tablet has arguably had an adventure just as chaotic as Gilgamesh's.

The Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was officially brought back to Iraq for a special ceremony on Tuesday along with 17,925 other recovered artifacts. Over the course of a year, the artifacts were recovered from the U.S., U.K., Japan, the Netherlands and Italy.

"This day represent a victory in the face of the desperate attempts of those who try to steal our great history and our ancient civilization," Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Fuad Hussein said.

The ceremony was also attended by Iraqi Minister of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Hassan Nadhem and other UNESCO officials.

UNESCO has described the process of recovering the valuable artifact as the culmination of decades of cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq, both of which are signatories to the UNESCO Convention of 1970.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.