A US federal court has ruled that the rare artifact, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Code, should be handed over to government authorities.
The archaeological inscription, estimated to be 3,500 years old, dates back to the civilization of Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq, a text from the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest literary works in the world.
Officials believe the piece entered the United States illegally and then sold to a Hobby Lobby group of arts and crafts stores.
The rare piece was purchased for display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.
The museum, which is chaired and funded by the president of the Hobby Lobby Group, Steve Green, has been subject to widespread controversy over its collection.
Officials said the piece was bought by an American antiquities dealer in 2003 in London, then shipped to the United States without declaring its contents, and then sold it with false documents.
The piece sold several times before the Hobby Lobby Group bought it at auction in 2014 for $1.67 million.
The acting attorney general for Eastern New York, Jacqueline M. Casoulis, described the latest development as an “important step on the way to returning this masterpiece that presents a rare piece of ancient world literature to its home country.”
An official statement said Hobby Lobby accepted the loss of the case.
The artifact known as “Gilgamesh’s Dream Number” includes parts of a Sumerian poem, which is part of the epic in which some stories and themes are similar to some stories of the Old Testament, such as the Garden of Eden.
The Internal Security Agency confiscated the piece from the museum in 2019.
Hobby Lobby has previously been fined $3 million and forced to hand over thousands of other artifacts.
Green justified his mistakes with his naivety, saying he “knew very little” about the archaeologist when he began acquiring rare items.
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