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Hobby Lobby, Smuggled Ancient Artifacts, and the Lost City of Irisagrig

American craft store chain Hobby Lobby and a rumored lost Sumerian city are two things you would never expect to see linked in a single headline. Yet according to a statement issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued this week, a cache of smuggled artifacts confiscated from Hobby Lobby by ICE agents may originate from this mysterious lost city of Irisagrig, which has never been located. Why exactly would a multi-million dollar hobby and craft retail corporation be smuggling ancient archaeological mysteries?

Where exactly does all this junk come from, anyway?

Where exactly does all this junk come from, anyway?

Because of the Bible, of course. Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO David Green is an avid collector of Biblical antiquities and recently opened the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Green has spent years scouring the Middle East collecting artifacts related to the history of the Christian Bible, including clay cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia and Sumeria. Green has spent untold millions on his collection, which has gotten him in trouble with the law before. Last year, Hobby Lobby was forced to forfeit over 5,000 artifacts and $3 million related to archaeological specimens illegally smuggled out of Iraq.

Hobby Lobby tried to pass these off as "tile samples."

Hobby Lobby tried to pass these off as “tile samples.”

Those artifacts are set to be returned to the Iraq museum this week. To announce the repatriation of these priceless archaeological artifacts, ICE issued a statement which curiously hints that these seized tablets could have originated from Irisagrig, a long-rumored lost Sumerian city which has eluded archaeologists for years. Due to widespread looting and wars, most of the archaeological evidence of this lost city has been scattered on the black market or pulverized into dust, making a definitive identification of the city’s location difficult.

ICE’s statement says this latest batch of smuggled artifacts are “from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE)” and consist of mostly “legal and administrative documents.” The seized cache of smuggled artifacts also includes “an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period” mostly written in cuneiform.

Cuneiform writing.

Coverage of the artifacts’ repatriation will be livestreamed on YouTube from the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C. on May 2nd, 6:00 p.m. GMT.