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A small clay tablet dating back 3,500 years and bearing a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh that was looted from an Iraqi museum 30 years ago and recently recovered from the United States formally returned to Iraq on Tuesday.

The $1.7m cuneiform tablet, known as the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet, is one of the world’s oldest surviving works of literature and one of the oldest religious texts. It was found in 1853 as part of a 12-tablet collection in the rubble of the library of Assyrian King Assur Banipal.

The tablet was looted from an Iraqi museum during the 1991 Gulf War. Officials believe it was illegally imported into the United States in 2003, then sold to Hobby Lobby and eventually put on display in its Museum of the Bible in Washington.

In a news conference on Tuesday in Baghdad, the Iraqi foreign minister delivered to the culture minister three artefacts recovered from the US and the United Kingdom: the tablet of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian ram’s head and a Sumerian tablet.

The Tablet of Gilgamesh “is of great importance, it is one of the oldest literary texts of Iraq’s history”, Minister of Culture and Antiquities Hassan Nazim told the AFP news agency.