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Greek Forensic Archaeologist Uncovers Looted Vase at Metropolitan Museum

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art delivered an ancient vase to Manhattan’s district attorney, after the DA had issued a warrant for the Greco-Roman vessel on July 24, citing “reasonable cause to believe” the museum was in possession of stolen property.

The terra cotta vessel, which dates to 350 B.C., is what’s called a krater: a large mixing bowl used to dilute wine with water. The contested krater bears the image of Dionysus, the god of wine and theater.

Questions about the vase’s provenance surfaced in 2014, when The Journal of Art Crime published an article by forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, in which he offered evidence the vase had no collecting history prior to 1989, and it matched photos in possession of a convicted art dealer. As a result, he argued, the Met should return the vase to Italy.

Tsirogiannis wrote that the item was likely illegally excavated after 1970, when UNESCO prohibited illicit trade of cultural property.

“When I sent American police the information, they immediately told me that this was ‘a great case,’ ” Dr. Tsirogiannis told the Times.

“It was abundantly clear that this rare object had been stolen.” He told the newspaper his evidence suggests looters excavated the item from a grave site in southern Italy in the 1970s.

A museum spokesman said the Met had tried to resolve the issues surrounding whether the vase was legally exported since the questions first arose in the 2014 article.

The museum says it paid $99,000 to buy the item from Sotheby’s in 1989. The museum provided no further information on the item’s acquisition or provenance; Sotheby’s told the Times it was not aware of any issues with the piece when it was sold.


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