A tablet dating back some three millennia was returned to the Iraqi government in Baghdad on Wednesday 30 years after the state news agency reported it had been stolen by the former Saddam Hussein.
The U.S. military announced in late October that the Al-Baqer tablet, containing some sacred texts dating back to 586 BC, had been captured by U.S. forces when they were routed from Baghdad by Shiite-led militants in 2003.
The tablet was sent to the National Museum in Iraq, where it will be put on display.
The tablet carried the legend: “To the Mahdi — Yes Maryam May your wise shepherd…”: An Iraqi media report said the tablet also contained fragments of an Apocryphal story written by a woman, Onir, and believed to explain how she lost an infant in the mincemeat of a pig.
The tablet could spark controversy among Shiites who believe it was a false prophecy intended to discredit Shiite Islam.
When asked in a statement whether the tablet would be on display, a spokesman for the National Museum in Baghdad, Saad al-Mahdabi, said: “I am planning to establish it in the museum museum in a place that is not new. This is part of the culture of the Iraqi people and we do not plan to change the current arrangement.”
Ali al-Moussawi, spokesman for Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, said the tablet was intended to help Iraqis learn of their rich and ancient history.
The tablet is a treasure trove, containing scholarly work from the famous Babylonia and Ciceronian periods, near the beginning of the Sumerian period (about 700 BC) and the Classical and Bronze ages (at least 850-1000 AD). There are some text fragments from Egyptian and Greek sources.
The writer of the inscription on the tablet has been identified as Akram, an 11th century Akkadian historian and member of the family of Akbar the Great, who ruled the empire between 486 BC and 551 BC.
Previously, the most famous artifacts in Iraq’s National Museum, located in a large complex dating back to the 14th century, have been the Assyrian Golden City of Ur, built by King Darius in the 8th century BC and the Alam al-Amyr collection of the 19th century, on which work in progress to restore parts of was “completely lost” in 1967 during the U.S. invasion.
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