HOBBY LOBBY FINED FOR IMPORTING STOLEN ARTIFACTS
This week has been such an unusually fruitful week for articles being shared that, today, Saturday, I am still combing through them to decide on what to schedule for blogs this coming week! So I want to thank everyone once again for sharing so many good finds, making the choice of what to blog about more difficult and, in a way, more fun. Some of these articles I have in fact archived for next week, as I may yet blog about them.
But this story had to be at the top of the list. Indeed, when I saw it, there was no doubt in my mind that it was at the top of the "final cuts" folder. So many people found various versions of it that I knew there was something in the aether and that this story would require some attention. So I present some of those various versions that people found for your consideration, before I get to my high octane speculation about the story, with a thank you to all of you who shared these articles and who are following the story:
Let's begin with the last of these articles, which indicates that Israel and the United Arab Emirates were involved in the deal. What is unclear, of course, is whether the individuals and organizations that functioned as components of the deal were simply located in these countries, or whether they were actually members of their governments. For reasons I'll get to in the high octane speculation, I suspect the latter.
Turning to the second article, we see a picture of a cuneiform tablet from the New York Times, with the caption "
Prosecutors said in the complaint that Hobby Lobby, whose evangelical Christian owners have long maintained an interest in the biblical Middle East, began in 2009 to assemble a collection of cultural artifacts from the Fertile Crescent. The company went so far as to send its president and an antiquities consultant to the United Arab Emirates to inspect a large number of rare cuneiform tablets — traditional clay slabs with wedge-shaped writing that originated in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.
In 2010, as a deal for the tablets was being struck, an expert on cultural property law who had been hired by Hobby Lobby warned company executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq and that a failing to determine their heritage could break the law.
Despite these words of caution, the prosecutors said, Hobby Lobby bought more than 5,500 artifacts — the tablets and clay talismans and so-called cylinder seals — from an unnamed dealer for $1.6 million in December 2010.
Now, this really captured my attention, not for what it is saying, but rather, for what it seems to be carefully avoiding saying, namely, that these cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals might be some of the missing loot from the Baghdad Museum Looting, about which I have written in my books and blogged about. I have always been suspicious of the whole events for several reasons, and it's worth recalling those reasons: (1) People dressed in American uniforms were seen by others going into the museum and removing things. Whether they were actually American soldiers or merely people dressed in American uniforms is a moot point. I have suspected the latter, and that the looting was a false flag, because (2) the story of the looting and people dressed in American uniforms was broken - as far as I am aware - by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, a point which puts a rather funny light on the whole event, for as I have pointed out numerous times, the French and Germans had several archaeological teams in Iraq at the behest of Saddam Hussein's government, digging up the Iraqi desert. These teams would have kept field catalogues of their discoveries, including brief notes about the contents of any cuneiform tablets they unearthed. Of course, when the US and UK and its "allies" went into Iraq during operation Desert Storm, the French and Germans were advised to remove their archaeological teams. The unwritten part of this story is that the German intelligence, the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst) maintained a presence in the country, and hence, in my speculations previously advanced, would have been capable of mounting a looting of the Museum with personnel in American uniforms. (3) When the Museum looting was studied, experts came to the conclusion that it was an "inside job" since the looters apparently were interested in specific things and knew exactly where to go to get them, in spite of the fact that many items had not, apparently, been entered into the Museum catalogue.
(4) Then came the U.S.-led recovery operation led by Marine Colonel Bagdonovich, which, in terms of the art works recovered, was quite successful. But as I mentioned at the time, something disturbed me, and this was the fact that the missing cuneiform tablets had seemed to drop completely out of the story, while the world's newspapers concentrated on supplying us with pictures of dazzling and beautiful ancient Mesopotamian art works that had been recovered. Faced with golden crowns and jewelry, thousands of dusty brown clay tablets really weren't very sensational, and I suspected then, and still do now, that that was the whole point: the really important loot was the tablets, not the art works.
The tablets, in other words, had dropped right off the radar, until a few years later, several thousands apparently turned up in Spain, causing a rumpus between Madrid and Baghdad, because Madrid did not want to return them. I say apparently turned up in Spain, because, like so often in these stories, we are never presented with the chain of evidence concerning these tablets to document the claim that they were, indeed, recently looted. And so it is here: we're supposed to believe that Hobby Lobby was the final step in a chain of custody from Iraq, to Israel and the Emirates, to the USA. But in order to establish this, it would seem to me that one would have to have an itemized inventory of what was on the tablets, or a photo record of each one, and then establish that the specific tablets in question were in the possession of each of the alleged participants. So the question remains open: were these tablets part of the original Baghdad Museum Looting haul (or any associated looting activity at that time?) and what is on said tablets that would make Hobby Lobby want to buy them (and then, sell some of them)?
All this brings me to my high octane speculation of the day, for in the first article we read that this may not have been a "simple mistake" on Hobby Lobby's part:
Ancient cuneiform tablets and clay bullae from modern-day Iraq were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates and Israel, JOD officials said. With Hobby Lobby’s consent they were falsely labeled as “ceramics” and “samples” and illegally shipped to Hobby Lobby stores and two corporate offices, according to the DOJ.
Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets that was used in Mesopotamia, according to the DOJ, and clay bullae are balls of clay on which seals have been imprinted.
“In 2009, Hobby Lobby began acquiring a variety of historical Bibles and other artifacts. Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artifacts about the Bible is consistent with the company’s mission and passion for the Bible,” said a Hobby Lobby statement. (Emphasis added)
We are told that the haul was not simply cuneiform tablets, but cylinder seals and so on, and that all this interest was because of Hobby Lobby's interest in the bible. Cylinder seals were used in Mesopotamia as a way of sealing documents; they would be equivalent to today's corporate seals, or monarchial or hierarchical seals of a king, nobleman, or bishop, and thus they are rather important from a legal point of view. They could, potentially, be seals that once belonged to Mesopotamian dynasties (and I'll let the reader run wild with speculation on that possibility... I don't think I need to say any more). What interests me rather is the allegation that these items were intentionally mislabeled, and therefore that the intention was to smuggle them into this country. That implies, to my speculative mind, a further intention to possibly remove more "intriguing" or perhaps even "offending" tablets from public view and scrutiny, while benefiting a narrow circle of insiders studying the contents of these objects. And what better way to do it than through corporate cutouts. I've even entertained the notion that the real reason Saddam Hussein was hung was that he may already have been briefed on the possible "sensational contents" of some of the things being dug up in his country's deserts, and that he simply had to be permanently silenced. After all, it was he who invited those archaeological teams to Iraq in the first place.
And, as always, we're still waiting for these media to report on the contents of these tablets, or at least, direct us to links where we may view each and every one, and to sites where - if any translations have been made - we can read what's on them. I suspect if that were to happen, we'd be reading a lot of ordinary business transactions, a bit like reading someone's checkbook register. The "juicy" stuff has probably been carefully removed from public view... and perhaps found its way into a corporate vault somewhere between Baghdad and here.
The sad bottom line is, that the looting of antiquities from Iraq is a story that just keeps on giving.
See you on the flip side...
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