Two marble busts looted from burial sites located in a Libyan coastal city were returned to the North African country on Wednesday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced.
For several decades, looters have pillaged burial grounds at Cyrene, which was once a prominent port city in ancient Greece. The region is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has suffered from vandalism to its cultural landscape that took place primarily in the 1980s and 1990s.
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In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. called the artifacts “windows into thousands of years of culture.” The more valuable one of the two had been on long-term loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
That marble sculpture depicts a woman’s head wrapped in a veil. The object dates back to 350 B.C.E. For just over two decades, it had been on loan from an anonymous individual to the Met.
City officials declined to identify the lender due to an ongoing investigation into looted antiquities from Middle East and North Africa.
Before coming into the individual’s hands, it was illegally smuggled into Egypt by a convicted antiquities trafficker, authorities said. Officials said it had been originally taken from an archeological site near Shahat, a northeastern province in Libya.
The sculpture was seized from the museum by authorities in February.
The second artifact returned to Libyan officials, Bust of a Bearded Man, dates back to sometime between 100 C.E. and 300 C.E., and was originally taken from a burial site at an unknown date and smuggled into Switzerland. It had been traded in market for decades before it was located by authorities in Manhattan at an undisclosed location.
The statue on loan to the Met was valued at $700,000, according to city officials. The other object was worth $30,000. Both pieces will be returned to the Shahat Museum.
In January, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office returned another marble antiquity looted from Cyrene valued at $1.2 million that also depicts the head of a veiled female figure. It was recovered as part of an investigation into looted items collected by disgraced billionaire Michael Steinhardt.