Iraq: 3,600-year-old tablet from the Epic of Gilgamesh returns home to Mesopotamia

WASHINGTON / BAGHDAD – The 3,600-year-old tablet containing a poem from the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world’s oldest known religious texts, was officially returned last Thursday to Iraq by the United States. The Gilgamesh tablet was smuggled out of Iraq in 1991.

Known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, the tablet contains fragments of a Sumerian poem in which the hero, Gilgamesh, describes his dreams to his mother. The complete epic poem, believed to have been written at least 4,00 years ago, mirrors stories found in the Old Testament, such as the Great Flood and the story of the Garden of Eden, but predate them by thousands of years. Written in the Akkadian language, a 12-tablet version of the poem was discovered in the library of a ruined palace in the ancient city of Nineveh in present-day Mosul.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the tablet was stolen from a museum in Iraq in 1991 and illegally taken to the U.S. in 2007. Purchased by arts and craft retailer Hobby Lobby in 2014, the tablet was seized by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2019. The official handover ceremony of the tablet was held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. on September 23.