US Returns $80 Million Worth of Stolen Ancient Artifacts

Written by Camilla Jessen

May.31 - 2024 10:24 AM CET

Photo: Ministero della Cultura on X
Photo: Ministero della Cultura on X
The US has returned a collection of 600 stolen ancient artifacts

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US law enforcement and consular officials have announced the return of a large collection of stolen art and antiquities, valued at approximately $80 million, to Italy.

This massive treasure trove of stolen artifacts, spanning from the 9th century BCE to the 4th century CE, includes a diverse array of historically significant items such as Roman coins, a mosaic floor, Umbrian bronzes, military equipment, oil paintings, sculptures, and various pottery pieces.

Reclaiming Cultural Heritage

These items came into possession in the US either through illegal excavations or were stolen during high-profile art thefts in the Italian regions of Calabria, Campagna, Puglia, Sicily, and Lazio.

Some were recovered from private collections, while others were surrendered by museums after authorities presented evidence of their illegal origins.

Photo: Ministero della Cultura on X

General Francesco Gargaro, commander of the Carabinieri’s art crimes unit, commented on the impact of looting.

"When artifacts are taken from clandestine graves, they have never been cataloged. That means that, in addition to the items themselves, their historical context was stolen, robbing archaeologists of valuable information," he told CNN.

Among the most prized items in the recovered collection are a bronze statue from the Umbrian tribe in excellent condition, several 2,400-year-old bronze heads, and a mosaic floor depicting the myth of Orpheus dating back to the 3rd or 4th century CE.

Art Trafficking

The Art Trafficking Unit (ATU) at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, renowned for its efforts in combating art and antiquities trafficking, managed the recovery and processing of these items.

Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos collaborated with Italy’s Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, an art crimes unit equipped with the Stolen Works Of Art Detection System (SWOADS). Since 2023, this AI-powered program has facilitated the confiscation of over 105,474 art pieces globally, valued at more than €264 million.

Under District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s leadership, Manhattan has become a global hub for recovering stolen art.

The ATU has successfully returned more than 1,000 antiquities from 27 countries, valued at over $215 million. This includes 278 items of Italian origin, as well as significant returns to India, Pakistan, Egypt, Greece, and Bulgaria, among others.

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