Centuries-old work of art robbed from the USA back to Iraq in Gulf War

In Iraq, a more than 3500 years old clay tablet was presented, which was robbed from a museum during the First Gulf War and has now returned from the US. It is one of over 17,000 works of art that has disappeared from Iraq over the past three decades and recently returned from America. A number of archaeological objects have also returned from the Netherlands earlier this year.

The showpiece that the Iraqis exhibited today is one of the oldest works of literature in the world. The clay tablet is part of the Gilgamesh epic and is worth around 1.7 million dollars. The Iraqi Ministers of Culture and Foreign Affairs officially received the work.


In 1991, the clay tablet was exploited during looting. According to the US authorities, it was illegally smuggled into the United States in 2003, during the invasion of Iraq. Eventually, it ended up in the Bible Museum of Washington D.C. Two years ago, it was confiscated and a judge ruled it had to go back to Iraq.

Much of Iraqi heritage has disappeared or destroyed in looting. Especially after the American invasion earlier this century, many pieces have been lost. Under the rule of terrorist group Islamic State, there was plenty of practice in predatory art.

Dutch auction site

The lions share ended up in the US. But Iraqi predatory art has also emerged in the Netherlands. In 2019, seven items were offered on a Dutch auction site, which turned out to be obscured. After examining the Inspectorate of Government Information and Heritage, the provider submitted them voluntarily.

This clay tablet, nails and two rare figures were handed over to Iraqi authorities in May.