Earlier today, the United States filed a civil complaint to forfeit thousands of cuneiform tablets and clay bullae. As alleged in the complaint, these ancient clay artifacts originated in the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, contrary to federal law. Packages containing the artifacts were shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (“Hobby Lobby”), a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and two of Hobby Lobby’s corporate affiliates. The shipping labels on these packages falsely described cuneiform tablets as tile “samples.”The languages is a little convoluted, but this seems to be saying that the Department of Justice has filed the civil action and Hobby Lobby has settled with them by agreeing to forfeit all of the cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, plus about about 144 cylinder seals, plus pay $3 million in fines. It also agreed to implement various procedures to keep such problems from happening again.
The government also filed a stipulation of settlement with Hobby Lobby, in which Hobby Lobby consented to the forfeiture of the artifacts in the complaint, approximately 144 cylinder seals and an additional sum of $3 million, resolving the civil action. Hobby Lobby further agreed to adopt internal policies and procedures governing its importation and purchase of cultural property, provide appropriate training to its personnel, hire qualified outside customs counsel and customs brokers, and submit quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.
Altogether there are about 5500 artifacts, among which are 1000 clay bullae (seal impressions) from Israel. No word on whether any of the bullae bore inscriptions. The two pictured bear designs, but I see no writing.
There is lots of media coverage. See, for example, this Reuters article by Dan Whitcomb: Hobby Lobby to Forfeit Ancient Iraqi Artifacts in Settlement With DOJ.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby has agreed to forfeit thousands of illegally smuggled ancient Middle Eastern artifacts obtained from antiquities dealers for a Bible museum headed by its president, the company and U.S. officials said on Wednesday.The article also has a response from Hobby Lobby.
The forfeiture will include some 5,500 artifacts purchased by Hobby Lobby Inc that originated from the region of modern-day Iraq and were shipped under false labels, as well as an additional $3 million to settle the civil charges, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
This looks pretty bad.
I noted a report in 2015 that a federal investigation of these matters was underway. Now it has been resolved. The story turned out to be worse than indicated in the earlier report. It referred to hundreds of tablets and didn't mention any bullae.
The Green family, who founded Hobby Lobby, also own the Green Collection of antiquities. The Museum of the Bible is also a Green family project. For past posts on both, start here and follow the links.
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