Looted archaeological artefacts worth more than $20m returned to Italy

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A group of 60 archaeological artefacts that had been looted from sites around Italy—including a fresco taken from Herculaneum and a marble head of Athena—were returned in a ceremony in Rome on Monday (23 January).

The objects, some of which had been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York while others had been purchased by billionaire collector Michael Steinhardt, had been handed over by US officials to their Italian colleagues in New York in September 2022. The objects have been valued collectively at more than $20m and were repatriated thanks to an international trafficking investigation led by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the cultural patrimony unit of the Carabinieri, Italy’s national police.

Marble head of Athena Courtesy Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale

“We have completed an important operation thanks to the precious Italian-American collaboration,” Vincenzo Molinese, the commander of the Carabinieri’s cultural patrimony unit, said at the press conference. “The cooperation between the judiciaries of the two countries has allowed us to obtain a result of historic significance.”

The objects’ recovery, in some cases, was aided by extensive photographic documentation by the Carabinieri of archaeological sites in Italy that were known to have been looted. By matching objects to the sites from which they had been taken, authorities could determine that they had been excavated and exported illegally.

A fresco fragment that was looted from Herculaneum and illegally exported to the US has been repatriated to Italy Courtesy Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale

Objects in the repatriated trove include ornately decorated ceramic dishes and amphora, metal jewellery, a bronze bust, a glass situla, several metal helmets, marble sculptures and more. Some of them were among the 180 stolen artefacts that Steinhardt surrendered to authorities in late 2021.

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