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At first glance, the ancient Babylonian tablets on exhibit for the first time at a Jerusalem museum look like nothing more than pockmarked lumps of clay.The tablets, though, also tell a murkier story, from the present era, according to scholars familiar with the antiquities trade – a story of the chaos in Iraq and Syria that has led to rampant pilfering of rich archaeological heritage and a rush of cuneiform tablets on the international antiquities' market.Leading U.S. museums have pledged not to exhibit unprovenanced artifacts that have surfaced in recent decades, as part of an effort over the last decade to discourage illicit antiquities trafficking.An American scholar of ancient Jewish history familiar with the tablets on display in Jerusalem said they were purchased on the London antiquities market at the time when cuneiform artifacts were flooding the market, a strong indication that the items were looted.As common as cuneiform tablets are, few have been as celebrated as those on display in Jerusalem.The tablets fill in a 130-year gap in the history of the Judeans exiled to Babylon after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in the middle of the 5th century B.C., said Laurie Pearce, a cuneiform expert from the University of California, Berkeley.
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