ICEs Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York, seized a rare cuneiform tablet bearing a portion of the epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian epic poem considered one the worlds oldest works of literature, from the Museum of the Bible last year Photo: ICE-HSI
Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based nationwide arts and crafts chain whose family owners founded the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, is suing Christies auction house for fraud and breach of warranty for selling it an ancient tablet, inscribed with part of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, which US authorities say has been looted. The lawsuit, filed today, claims that Christies offered assurances during a 2014 private sale that the consignor, who is only identified in the lawsuit as “a private art collector who resides in London”, was legally entitled to sell the ancient object, when the auction house knew its provenance was fake.
Hobby Lobbys lawsuit follows conversations with federal authorities and a civil action taken yesterday by the US Attorneys Office in New York to return the tablet to Iraq. Last September, agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security seized the tablet, which dates from 1600 BC, from the Museum of the Bible, claiming that the cuneiform had been stolen from Iraq and illegally imported into the US in violation of several statutes, including the 1934 National Stolen Property Act.
In a statement announcing the governments move to return a piece of Iraqs cultural history, Richard P. Donoghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, notes that “in this case, a major auction house failed to meet its obligations by minimizing its concerns that the provenance of an important Iraqi artifact was fabricated, and withheld from the buyer information that undermined the provenances reliability.”
The tablet had been originally consigned to Christies through its London office in 2013, and was brought to New York the next year when it was privately sold for $1.67m to Hobby Lobby. In its communications with Hobby Lobby, the auction house said that the cuneiform had previously been sold by the San Francisco-based firm Butterfield & Butterfield in 1981, years before all imports into the US of cultural property from Iraq were banned following the first Gulf War in 1990. But during conversations earlier this year, government officials revealed to Hobby Lobby that this history was made up, according to the companys lawsuit.
“In 2014 and again in 2017, Christies affirmed to Hobby Lobby that the Butterfields provenance was correct, that they had checked it and that it was accurateRead More – Source