Skip to main content

Relief from Cyrenaica Recovered in Paris

It has been reported ("Stolen Piece of Antiquity Retrieved", Mathaba, February 23, 2008) that a Roman relief showing Hermes (?, "Hurmuz"), stolen from an archaeological store in Libya, was recovered from an auction in Paris.
The director of the Board of Antiquities said the piece was found in Shahat during excavating work in 1973 and disappeared in 1999.

Search led to the piece being in the possession of Athens Hall Auction House owned by an American with branches in London and New York.

It was disclosed that the piece was acquired by the Hall in June from a antiquities trader in Zurich, Switzerland.
I wonder if the report is a little confused and has lost detail in translation. I know of no auction house called "Athens Hall". But I presume this is an antiquities dealer with branches in New York and London.

Shahat is otherwise known as Cyrene, so it is safe to presume that this theft is linked to material from the site (Mark Rose, "Stolen Sculptures from Cyrene, Libya", Archaeology, January 30, 2001).
Alerted of the theft by Emanuela Fabbricotti of the Italian Mission to Cyrene, White and Kane created a website,, on which they posted information about the loss his January 22. Two heads--one of a male and the other possibly of Demeter--were relocated within as many days of the appearance of the website, thanks, says White, "to the energetic interventions of Jean-David Cahn, president of the International Association of Ancient Art Dealers, and Jerome M. Eisenberg, director of the Royal-Athena Galleries." The case highlights the potential of the web in publicizing the theft of antiquities and helping in the recovery of stolen artifacts.
The website is no longer functioning.

Donald White issued this statement back in 2001 [archived]:
In 1969 an international team of investigators began excavating the Extramural Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone at Cyrene in the province of Cyrenaica of what is today eastern Libya. The project was begun under the sponsorship of the University of Michigan's Kelsey Museum and was taken over in 1973 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Fieldwork ceased in 1981 after nine seasons of activity directed by Penn's Dr. Donald White, largely because of the deteriorating relations between the governments of Libya and the United States. During the years between 1969 and 1981 a very substantial quantity of stone sculpture was unearthed from the sanctuary's ground. Professor Susan Kane at Oberlin is the principal investigator responsible for the publication of this material. It now our sad duty to report that a major theft of this material was carried out some time in late 1999 or early in 2000. A gang of persons as yet largely unidentified broke into the University of Pennsylvania's storerooms through a broken window and removed what appears to have been a total of 15 marble heads. These objects represent some of the most interesting and archaeologically valuable artifacts found by us in the course of the entire excavation. A list of the stolen pieces was provided to us by Professor Emanuela Fabbricotti of the Italian Mission to Cyrene in November 2000. While the current location of the stolen pieces is still a matter of speculation, it is likely that they were transported across the border into Egypt fairly soon after the initial theft. None of the principals responsible for the thefts have been apprehended by the Libyan authorities, and many details surrounding this event remain obscure owing to the on-going absence of direct communications between us and the Libyan Department of Antiquities headquartered in Tripoli. Fortunately we possess a complete documentation of all of the pieces reportedly lost. In the meantime we appeal to the public at large as well as to all of our scholarly colleagues to report to us any information they might have about the missing pieces.


Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.