A stolen marble fragment from an ancient Greek sarcophagus was recovered by New York City prosecutors and formally returned to Greek officials during a press conference.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. returned the second-century artifact at a repatriation ceremony with Greek Consul General Konstantinos Koutras, the country’s formal representative in New York.
“Trafficked antiquities often acquire a veneer of legitimacy after the passage of time or changes in ownership,” DA Cyrus Vance said in a news release. “Galleries, auction houses, and art collectors, however, should be on alert that my Office and our partners in law enforcement are closely following the listing and sale of items of suspicious or dubious provenance.”
The piece depicting a battle between Greek and Trojan fighters was stolen from Greece in 1988, smuggled across Europe and finally brought to New York where it emerged in the gallery circuit, officials said.
“Sadly, in the past, our country has suffered from cruel and continued smuggling of its antique artifacts,” said Koutras. “I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to (Vance) for his contribution to this achievement, as we proudly accept a part of our heritage.”
Manhattan prosecutors, in collaboration with international investigators, reclaimed the ancient marble piece from an unidentified gallery in Midtown last month. The business was unaware of the fragment’s provenance, and immediately turned the piece over when informed of its crooked past, according to Vance’s office.
The nearly 2,000-year-old artifact will be returned to Athens and will be put on display at the National Archeological Museum.
The Manhattan DA’s office has recovered and returned several ancient artifacts as part of criminal investigations and prosecutions.
In August 2014, five coins dating to 515 B.C. were returned to Greece after coin collector Arnold Peter Weiss was charged with and later convicted of attempted criminal prosecution of stolen property, the DA’s office said.
He had several coins he believed had been stolen dekadrachma and tetradrachma from the Sicilian cities of Agrigento and Catania.
In April 2016, a 2nd century Buddhist sculpture worth more than $1 million was returned to Pakistan after the investigation and prosecution of Tatsuzo Kaku, who had been selling stolen antiquities smuggled from South Asia.
In May and June 2016, two bronze statues and four carved artifacts dating to the 10th and 11th centuries A.D., valued at several million dollars, were returned to India as part of a series of seizures of stolen antiquities.