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The Greek Archaeologist who Helped Expose Steinhardt’s Stolen Antiquities

Steinhardt Tsirogiannis stolen antiquities
Christos Tsirogiannis was instrumental in uncovering the stolen antiquities in the Steinhardt collection. Credit: Christos Tsirogiannis

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, who played a vital role in uncovering stolen antiquities in the collection of billionaire Michael Steinhardt told Greek Reporter on Tuesday that US authorities will soon announce at least two more cases of the same magnitude.

Tsirogiannis, who has identified numerous stolen antiquities in private collections and museums over the years, revealed that the Dictrict Attorney’s Office in New York will “announce two more cases soon.

“I would leave it to the DA’s office to make the new announcements, but what I can tell you is that they are due to announce two more cases of the same level, for which I have also worked and identified objects,” Tsirogiannis told Greek Reporter.

He added that there are around a dozen collectors of that magnitude, with this kind of wealth, “that are investing in the acquisition of antiquities without provenance or documented proof that should accompany each of these objects.”

The Associate Professor and Fellow at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus, Denmark was one of the group of researchers, investigators and foreign law enforcement officials credited by the Manhattan prosecutors’ office with assisting in the Steinhardt case.

The confiscated items, which decorated Steinhardt’s homes and offices — and which, notably, he often lent to major museums — came mostly from Italy, Greece and Israel, according to a list compiled by investigators.

“I am really proud of identifying the stolen antiquities, some of which are very rare and of high value — not only of aesthetic value but also of monetary value,” Tsirogiannis told Greek Reporter today.

Tsirogiannis identified 36 items in Steinhardt collection

The Greek professor identified 36 antiquities from the Steinhardt collection, of which four are being repatriated to Greece, 30 to Italy, one to Iraq, and one to Syria.

He tells Greek Reporter that he is extremely proud in identifying the most valuable antiquity in his career so far. “The Kouros statue stolen from Greece is estimated at 14 million dollars…This antiquity alone is almost a fifth of the total value of around 180 confiscated objects, totaling 70 million in value. It is by far a new personal best in my career.”

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The Kouros statue from the Steinhardt Collection. Credit: Manhattan DA’s Office

Overall, a total of 47 looted antiquities retrieved from Steinhardt will be returned to Greece soon, the Greek Ministry of Culture stated last week.

Steinhardt, the 81-year-old billionaire hedge fund pioneer and one of New York’s most prolific antiquities collectors, has surrendered the stolen objects and been barred for life from acquiring any other relics.

The prosecutor’s office struck an agreement with him after a four-year multinational investigation that determined that the seized pieces had been looted and smuggled from 11 countries, trafficked by 12 illicit networks, and appeared on the international art market without lawful paperwork, the office said.

No thanks for uncovering looted Steinhardt antiquities

Tsirogiannis expresses disappointment over the fact that no official from the countries that the stolen antiquities belong to, and which he helped identify, have been in touch with him to express thanks or gratitude.

“As usual, everyone wants to take a piece of credit from my work that they don’t deserve,” he tells Greek Reporter. “The best way to deal with that, as an archaeologist, is to publish the truth, with evidence, and to notify as many people as possible about these cases,” he adds.

Tsirogiannis says that he had published the case of some of the stolen antiquities eventually found in the Steinhardt collection seven years ago in academic articles. “For example, I identified the rare Sardinian goddess, the prehistoric idol, in November 2014. This item led to the fall of the Steinhardt collection. The proof is already out there, and no one can deny that.”

Steinhardt Tsirogiannis stolen antiquities
“The Sardinian Goddess,” formerly in the Steinhardt collection. Credit: Christie’s

He is particularly bitter about his home country of Greece — which not only has never thanked him for identifying stolen antiquities, but has also accused him that by publishing his work he is obstructing the repatriation of antiquities to Greece. “Of course, for all these years, I have done exactly the opposite,” he says.

Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni expressed her thanks to US authorities for their work on the case of the Steinhardt collection, but there was no mention of Tsirogiannis:

“I thank the American authorities, their staff, and especially the District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, as well as the staff of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, who assisted in the work of documenting and recovering the antiquities illegally exported from Greece, which were included in the Steinhardt Collection,” Mendoni stated.

Tsirogiannis has identified more than 1,500 stolen antiquities

Over the last fifteen years, Tsirogiannis has identified more than 1,558 looted antiquities within auction houses, commercial galleries, private collections and museums worldwide.

In alerting Interpol and other police authorities, he has played a significant role in securing the repatriation of many antiquities.

He tells Greek Reporter that he will continue his research to identify stolen objects, whatever the ramifications.

“I cannot accept the fact that the tombs, sanctuaries, temples, all sacred places of our ancestors have been raided by thieves, who have thrown bones away, smashed them, stolen artifacts, and sold them illegally after trafficking them abroad for their own personal profit. Essentially, they are stealing from all of us, whatever country they are in,” he says.

Being Greek also weighs on him and his work. “Being Greek myself, I am happy that objects that I work on and identify once again return to Greece, and that is, on its own, a serious motivation for me to continue that, in order to benefit my country,” Tsirogiannis tells Greek Reporter.

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