Saturday 28 January 2023

Repatriation: the “Epic of Gilgamesh Dream Tablet” in Iraqi National Museum

The infamous Epic of Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was formally handed back to Iraq by the United States of America at a ceremony in April 2022 at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. It is now on exhibition in the Iraq National Museum. It was seized in the US in September 2021 and hailed as a sizable victory in the fight against the illicit trade of cultural property ( Joseph Ostapiuk 'Feds seize ancient literature tablet; say ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ was smuggled' Jul. 27, 2021). A reminder:
"The rare artifact, known as the “Gilgamesh Dream Tablet,” originated in what is now modern day Iraq and entered the U.S. against federal law in 2003 and 2014, authorities said. A false provenance letter was used to sell the six-by-five inch tablet written in the Akkadian language before it was purchased by Oklahoma arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby in 2014, according to authorities. The tablet is considered Iraqi government property and should be returned, court documents said.[...] Hobby Lobby, which is fully cooperating with the investigation, put the artifact on display at the Museum of the Bible before law enforcement seized it from the museum in September 2019. [...] A government investigation found a U.S. antiques dealer purchased the tablet from a coin dealer in London in 2003 and shipped it into the U.S. without declaring formal entry. Once the encrusted tablet was cleaned, experts recognized it contained cuneiform portions of the Gilgamesh epic in which the protagonist describes his dreams to his mother, federal authorities said. Four years later, authorities said the dealer sold the artifact using the false paperwork that claimed the work had been inside a box of ancient bronze fragments purchased at an auction in 1981. That paperwork followed the tablet as it was sold in several different countries, the investigation found. A later owner of the tablet sold the tablet to a London-based auction house using that same provenance. The tablet was purchased by Hobby Lobby in 2014, and an employee with the auction house carried it on a flight from London to the United States before it was transferred to New York. Hobby Lobby agreed to the tablet’s forfeiture based on the illegal importations to the U.S.
The tablet has been sent to Iraq, and none of the dealers, transporter, facilitators, producers of false documentation, handling money in fraudulent transactions or anyone else involved in the affair are sitting in jail. Of course, but hey... "repatriation", eh? Business as usual.

But something is also disturbing. The photos of the seized object (left from the above-cited text) show its condition two years ago. That on the right is a photo of the object in the museum today. There is substantial discolouration and very clear efflorescence of soluble salts on the surface. When did they appear? What were the environmental conditions where the object was held by US authorities before its transfer, and then after its transfer? Where was it kept, and what is the cause of this effect (and when will this apparent deterioration of the tablet be studied and dealt with)??

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.