Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million for illegally importing thousands of ancient clay artifacts from Iraq into the United States. They will also have to forfeit thousands of cuneiform tablets, clay bullae, and cylinder seals that were falsely labeled and shipped through the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Cuneiform is an ancient writing system where inscriptions are carved into clay or stone. Clay bullae are balls of clay that have seals imprinted on the surface to show how authentic a document is. Impressions into clay were rolled on by cylinder seals.
Hobby Lobby purchased more than 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 million in December 2010 from an unidentified dealer which was already a bad move. American collectors and importers must comply with laws and regulations that require truthful declarations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This would allow Customs officers to prevent any inappropriate entry of illegal property. As a result, Hobby Lobby got conflicting information about where the artifacts were stored and never bothered to communicate with the dealer who was selling the items.
Starting in 2009, President Steve Green began collecting a range of historically significant manuscripts and other antiquities. He traveled with a consultant to the United States Emirates where they inspected a large supply of artifacts such as cuneiform tablets. During an inspection in July 2010, the dealers said the items were from the family collection of a third dealer who was not present and later sent Hobby Lobby a statement that guaranteed authenticity.
After returning to the United States, Green knew about the risk of purchasing antiquities from Iraq. Any item that wasn’t properly declared could be confiscated by custom officials but he proceeded with the sale regardless. All of the packages sent from the United Arab Emirates based dealer were falsely labeled to avoid confiscation by Customs. Some other packages were falsely declared that items came from Turkey but was actually from Iraq. All of this resulted in the $3 Million fine for smuggling illegal artifacts into the United States.