Ancient Artifact Goes On Display In Kurdistan After Museum Deal With Smuggler

WASHINGTON — Syria lost one of its iconic ancient treasures Sunday, when ISIS blew up the 1,800-year-old Arch of Triumph in Palmyra. The incident drew attention to another destructive consequence of crises in ancient areas, in which well-preserved ruins and artifacts fall victim to modern-day warfare.

But in a less noticed piece of news, a valuable artifact in another war-torn country was actually saved and displayed for the public, Live Science reported Friday.

The Sumerian-age tablet, which contains 20 previously lost lines of “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” was bought from smugglers, reflecting an uncomfortable ethical dilemma for museums and other institutions: Should they make deals with smugglers and looters in order to protect and preserve history?

The tablet was one of a group of 80 to 90, and bought for $800 off a smuggler in Iraq in 2011 by the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Slemani, Kurdistan, which is directed by the council of ministers of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The tablet rewrites the setting of an important scene in the epic, a pre-Homeric Sumerian poem widely regarded as the first great work of Western literature.

The tablet’s translators, scholars F. N. H. al-Rawi and A. R. George, wrote of their findings in the Journal of Cuneiform Studies in 2014: “The most interesting addition to knowledge provided by the new source is the continuation of the description of the Cedar Forest.” Al-Rawi and George cite descriptions of the chatter of birds and monkeys that color what was once thought to be a tranquil and unassuming forest.