In 1991, curators of an Iraqi museum were shocked to find out that one of the country’s most prized national treasures was gone. For 12 years, the whereabouts of the Gilgamish Dream Tablet were unknown; well, not until it resurfaced years later far away from home.
The first appearance it made after it was stolen was in 2003 was in the United States; an antique dealer had bought it from a coin dealer in London; the first dealer then shipped it illegally to the U.S. After it was identified as a historical relic, it was maintained and kept in the U.S. However, after 30 years away from home, it is finally going back to Iraq, and the celebration of its return is happening next Monday.
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Sumerian poems were written in 2100 B.C. and are universally known as the world’s oldest literary work. The epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia was written on 12 tablets in the Akkadian language, telling a story of hubris and humility. Like other stories from that time and age, the protagonist, Gilgamish, was a man who was physically strong and handsome; he was godlike. However, he was a ruthless tyrant who forced labor on his inferiors, assaulted women, and humiliated the gods.
Consequently, the gods wanted Gilgamish punished, and so they created a man who was as wild and strong as him: Enkidu. During a battle between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the former prevailed. However, they both ended up being friends, and together they looked for adventure. During their journies, they killed a bull sent by the gods, and Enkidu was punished for it by getting ill. When Enkidu died, Gilgamesh feared his own death. By the end of the story, the Mesopotamian king’s quest for immortality eventually came to waste, and he had to come to terms with being mortal.
Despite its small size, 6 by 5 inches in dimensions, the artifact has huge historical and cultural values, as it is approximately 3,500-years-old. For the last couple of years, it’s been in the U.S. In 2014, an American company bought it for $1.67 million to showcase it in the Museum of the Bible in Washington. However, in 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice declared that it was imported illegally, so it needed to be handed over.
In cooperation with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, the relic was returned to the Iraqi authorities. An event was held in Washington last September, where the Iraqi Minister of Culture Hassan Nazim accepted the tablet.
There will be a celebratory event in Baghdad on Monday in which U.S. authorities will hand over the tablet to their Iraqi counterparts. The Culture Minister stated that to him this means, “restituting self-esteem and confidence in the Iraqi society.”
Moreover, this is not the only retrieved artifact; there are around 17,000 antiquities that have been sent back to Iraq in July. In addition to a huge file containing 150 documents about the royal Iraqi family. The items recovered are from many countries such as Britain, America, Italy, France, Japan, and the Netherlands.
After a 30-year-old journey, the tablet finally arrives home in Iraq.