NEW YORK –The Manhattan District Attorney’s office on Friday announced the return of a fragment of an ancient marble sarcophagus fragment to Greece, CBS New York reports. As part of a continuing investigation with partners in international law enforcement, the DA’s office went into a gallery in Midtown Manhattan with a search warrant and seized the fragment, which was on display as a centerpiece.
The fragment dates back to 200 A.D. and depicts a battle between Greek and Trojan warriors, the DA’s office said. It was stolen from Greece in 1988, and was smuggled abroad and transported through Europe before finally ending up in New York, the DA’s office said.
Once presented with evidence that it had been stolen, the Manhattan-based gallery handed the item over willingly.
The fragment is going back to Greece, where it will be displayed for public view and research at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
“Trafficked antiquities often acquire a veneer of legitimacy after the passage of time or changes in ownership,” said District Attorney Vance. “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. As looting becomes more common, collectors must exercise greater scrutiny when it comes to evaluating whether an item may have been unlawfully acquired. To do otherwise is to implicitly endorse an unacceptable practice through willful ignorance. I thank our partners for their commitment to ending the trade of stolen antiquities, and today, I am gratified to return another treasured artifact to its rightful owner, the Hellenic Republic and people of Greece.”
Consul General of Greece, Dr. Koutras stated:
“On behalf of the Hellenic Republic, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to the District Attorney of Manhattan, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., for his contribution to this achievement, as we proudly accept a part of our heritage. This marvelous marble sarcophagus dated around the 2nd century A.D. will now be returned where it belongs, to Greece. It will be displayed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens with a special reference that will point out the decisive contribution of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its repatriation.
Sadly, in the past, our country has suffered from cruel and continued smuggling of its antique artifacts, and even to this day, a very important part of our heritage remains scattered throughout the world.
“The artistic expression of every human age and culture is part of our global and perennial heritage. Art, culture, and tradition transcend time and space. This global, collective expression should in no way be confined within the physical borders of any country, as regrettably is still the case today, especially with numerous ancient Greek artifacts.
“The fruits of the ancient Greek civilization, which have largely inspired and shaped the modern notions of democracy, philosophy, science and the arts, should be shared and enjoyed universally. It is, therefore, essential that they be exposed to as large a public as possible. It is imperative that they be shielded from exploitation. They belong to the world, and are not to be sequestered or used to serve or safeguard private interests.”
“I applaud the tremendous investigative efforts by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the Consul General of Greece in New York, and our HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities unit for working together to recover and return the ancient marble sarcophagus that was stolen nearly 30 years ago,” said Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent-in-Charge of HSI New York. “The return of this piece of artwork is another excellent example of what can be accomplished when law enforcement authorities in the U.S. and abroad partner to identify and recover historic, stolen works of art.”
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 as far back as 51q5 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.