When we examine the ancient texts of Mesopotamia and Sumer, we are talking about the location of modern-day southern Iraq. The tablets and artifacts found in this area are of great importance in understanding the real history of human civilization. We want the truth of our origins, but how will we get it if it’s sold and hidden away?
Unfortunately, knowledge of ancient history makes these antiquities highly desirable to unscrupulous collectors who have bought up artifacts looted from the war-torn country of Iraq. Now, after being stolen by looters and terrorists and sold on the black market as contraband, many of these priceless objects and clay tablets are finally headed back home. Many pieces came from the ancient cities of Ur and Irisagrig and could date back to 2,100 BC.
Sadly, many priceless artifacts were destroyed forever during Islamic State control of the city of Nineveh, including the obliterated Imam Younis shrine known as “Jonah’s tomb.” The tomb once displayed a tooth held by some to be that of the whale in which Jonah survived for a time.
The Iraq War (Mar 20, 2003 – Dec 18, 2011) brought occupation by U.S. troops, but today terrorist group ISIS is reportedly regaining strength in Iraq and Syria. These religious extremists seek to selfishly destroy the ancient temples and texts, while military confrontations caused collateral damage to ancient sites. In truth, looting took place by those on all sides of the battlefronts.
Strangely, American arts-and-crafts company Hobby Lobby was one of many that sought to collect ancient Mesopotamian artifacts for as much as $1.6 million. In May 2018, as many as 3,800 objects were handed over by U.S. officials, intercepting them from their destination at Hobby Lobby headquarters in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The priceless cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals and clay bullae had been smuggled out of Iraq and purchased illegally by the Evangelical Christian corporation.
Why would an arts and crafts store want to acquire “bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period?” According to the PBS report, the company began collecting historical artifacts ins 2009, buying as many as 40,000 biblical artifacts and texts.
In July 2019, a treasure trove of similar looted artifacts was seized by authorities and ended up at the British Museum for safekeeping. Among the haul were 154 Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets. According to the Smithsonian mag:
“Seized in 2011, the clay texts date to the mid-3rd century B.C. and describe administrative operations in the lost city of Irisagrig. With the permission of the National Museum of Iraq, a selection of the artifacts will also go on view at the British Museum before returning home.”
Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture recently expressed joy as they welcome the return of 173 archeological paintings and other objects.
Iraqi news reports that some of the objects were retrieved from Hobby Lobby while others came back from American museums, private collectors, and even universities.
“It is a happy day for us as archeologists and as Iraqis to return this historical heritage. It is a special day for us, for these artifacts, pieces, and works of art to return to the embrace of the mother,” minister Hamdani said.
“Retrieving the archeological items was a ‘holy, national duty,’ he added. ‘Here is where civilization started. Here is where the [first] state was founded.'”
Meanwhile, Kurdish news reports that Turkey recently signed an agreement with Iraq to return 80 artifacts smuggled into Turkey. Turkish authorities confiscated them in 2008.
According to a report from Kurdistan 24:
“The agreement comes a day after the U.S. embassy in Baghdad announced on Friday that it had provided $4 million to renovate and rehabilitate historic sites in Iraq, including the Ishtar Gate in Babylon, the holy Yezidi temple of Lalish in Duhok, St. George’s Church in Baghdad, and the Erbil Citadel.”
Among the most significant artifacts to return to Iraq could reportedly be a famous restored copy of the enormous Ishtar Gate in Berlin, Germany. The original gate was initially one of the Seven Wonders of the World and depicts a dragon mentioned in the King James Bible.
See the Ishtar Gate rendered in 3D from Google Arts and Culture:
Iraq is considering a new national museum to hold the returning artifacts. According to the reports, somewhere around 15,000 items have been plundered, but only around 7,000 have thus far returned. Debate continues among historians, archaeologists, preservationists, and curators about how best to preserve these irreplaceable ancient treasures. If terrorists return they could be at great risk once more.
Unless we preserve these ancient treasures, the world will lose some of the oldest writings of the human race on cuneiform tablets.
Cuneiform, with its wedge-shaped style, is one of the earliest systems of writing, invented by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia c. 3500-3000 BCE. Until the mid 19th century C.E., the great literary works of Mesopotamia remained unknown. The most famous is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which changed the understanding of history.
See more of the stunning Ishtar Gate below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube