By Sasha Ingber
Nearly 4,000 ill-gotten artifacts will be returned to Iraq on Wednesday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says. The ancient objects were bought by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of arts and crafts stores, then smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law.
The Oklahoma-based chain of retail stores bought more than 5,500 objects from dealers in the United Arab Emirates and Israel in 2010, said the Department of Justice in a July 2017 document. The purchase was made months after the company was advised by an expert to use caution.
An “expert on cultural property law” had warned Hobby Lobby that artifacts from Iraq, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, could be stolen from archaeological sites. The expert also told the company to search its collections for objects of Iraqi origin and make sure that those materials were properly identified. But despite that warning Hobby Lobby arranged to purchase thousands of antiquities — including cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals — for $1.6 million.
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