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US Returns 29 Smuggled Antiquities to Greece

US Antiquities Greece
Among the antiquities returned to Greece is a bronze calyx krater dating to 350 BCE that was seized in January. Credit: Facebook/Consulate of Greece in NY

The US returned 29 antiquities to Greece during a repatriation ceremony at the Greek Consulate of New York on Tuesday.

Key pieces returned include a bronze calyx krater dating to 350 BC that was seized in January; the Eid Mar coin, minted in 42 BCE to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar; and the Neolithic Family Group which dates to 5000-3500 BC and is valued at $3 million.

the Eid Mar coin, minted in 42 BCE to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar. Credit: Ministry of Culture

The antiquities were smuggled out of Macedonia, Epirus, Central Greece, the Cyclades, and Crete, and ended up in the US.

Among other antiquities returned to Greece, which cover a wide chronological spectrum from prehistoric to Roman times, are marble and bronze figurines of people and animals, marble, silver, bronze and earthenware vessels, gold and bronze jewelry, and part of a fresco.

All were seized pursuant to multiple criminal investigations into high-profile traffickers and smugglers. Investigations were supervised by Matthew Bogdanos, head of the Manhattan district attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit.

Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business

The repatriation ceremony was attended by Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, Consul General Konstantinos Konstantinou, and Ivan J. Arvelo, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New York.

“Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage, and Greece – long acknowledged as the cradle of Western Civilization – is especially susceptible to this type of criminal enterprise,” Arvelo said.

“These treasured artifacts date from as far back as 5000 BCE and were a valued part of life in the ancient world. We are honored to join our partners today in the repatriation of this priceless cultural heritage to the people of Greece,” he said.

A pair of gold bracelets dated from the 3rd Century BC was also returned to Greece. Credit: Ministry of Culture.

The Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni praised the work of the Manhattan Prosecutor’s Office by noting that its work in recent years “led to the repatriation of hundreds of illegally trafficked antiquities to their countries of origin, among them and Greece.”

Smuggled female figurines dated 2800-2600 BC. Credit: Ministry of Culture.

Stressing that Greece has suffered from the illegal trade in antiquities she added that the Manhattan officials “succeeded in hitting the illegal international criminal networks, whose action alters the identity of the peoples, as it cuts the archaeological findings from their contexts and turns them from the evidence of the history of the peoples, into simple works of art,” Mendoni added.

As Evangelos Kyriakidis a Professor of Prehistory of the Aegean at the University of Kent noted recently the looting of artifacts has always been a sign of military might or economic power.

To combat this illicit traffic in antiquities it is necessary to have a comprehensive international strategy, which allows once and for all to stop this cultural crime.

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