Arts & Crafts retailers Hobby Lobby has been ordered to forfeit a rare 3,500-year-old Gilgamesh Dream Tablet by the U.S. Department of Justice after the smuggled artifact was determined to belong to the Iraqi government.

The cuneiform clay tablet bares a Sumerian poem and is considered one of the world’s oldest works of literature, which Hobby Lobby purchased in 2014 for $1.6 million from an international auction house, CNBC reported. It has been displaying at the Museum of the Bible.

Law enforcement seized the tablet from the Washington, D.C. museum in September 2019.

“This forfeiture represents an important milestone on the path to returning this rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis said in a statement on Monday. “This office is committed to combating the black-market sale of cultural property and the smuggling of looted artifacts.”

According to the DOJ’s complaint, the tablet came into the U.S. in 2003 from an antiquities dealer that purchased the tablet that at the time was encrusted with dirt and unreadable from a family member of a London coin dealer. The tablet was then shipped to the U.S. without declaring the contents as required and cleaned, where it was then determined it contained part of the Gilgamesh epic.

The tablet, which measures 6 inches by 5 inches and is written in the Akkadian language, was sold several times in a number of countries with a false provenance letter that it had been inside a box of miscellaneous ancient bronze fragments purchased at a 1981 auction.

It then made its way to an auction house in London, where it was sold to Hobby Lobby in a private sale.

Hobby Lobby has agreed to the tablet’s forfeiture based on its illegal importations into the U.S., the DOJ said.

“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the Department’s continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the U.S. art market,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said. “Thwarting trade in smuggled goods by seizing and forfeiting an ancient artifact shows the department’s dedication to using all available tools, including forfeiture, to ensure justice.”

This is not the first time that Hobby Lobby has had to turn over artifacts that have been alleged to come into the U.S. through illegal means.

In 2017, Hobby Lobby paid the federal government a $3 million fine and forfeited more than 5,500 artifacts that were believed to have been looted from Iraq, the New York Times reported.

In 2020, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green turned over as many as 11,500 artifacts that belonged to the Iraqi and Egyptian governments after claiming he didn’t know how they came into the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.

Hobby Lobby A Hobby Lobby store is pictured on June 30, 2014, in Plantation, Florida. Photo: Getty Images