By Tom Westcott.
London, 28 August:
A rare artefact stolen from an archaeological excavation in Khoms has been returned to the Libyan Embassy . . .[restrict]in Switzerland by the local authorities.
The Director of the Consular Department of Foreign Affairs and International Affairs, Mohammed Al-Badri, said in a statement that the artefact was part of a small statue depicting a female torso and head, weighing five kilograms.
The statue is understood to have been unearthed in 1999 during archaeological digs near Khoms. It appears to have been stolen and smuggled out of the country shortly after its excavation.
The object was purchased in 2000 by a Swiss collector, who later recognised the piece on a website dedicated to antiquities. Noting that it was listed as stolen and that Libya had requested its return, he voluntarily surrendered the artefact to the Swiss authorities. It has now been handed over to the Libyan Embassy in Berne, Switzerland’s capital.
The country’s archaeological dig sites have long been at risk of such thefts, with inadequate security provided by underpaid and often poorly-trained guards. There are lucrative European markets for Libyan antiquities, some of which are 2,500 years old. In 2006 the BBC also reported that due to limited security measures, at least 90 important items had been stolen from Tripoli Museum since 1988.
In January another stolen Libyan artefact long held in a private Swiss collection was returned to Tripoli. This was the first-century head of a statue of Flavia Domitilla Minor, the daughter of Emperor Vespasian. Excavated in Sabratha, the statue had been on show in the local museum until thieves smashed it and made off with the head.
The whereabouts of the head was unknown until it reappeared in the UK at London’s Christies Auction House. A London-based Libyan archaeologist recognised the object and alerted Christies but the artefact was sold to an Italian collector for £91,250. The sale was subsequently cancelled after the new owner voluntarily handed the piece over to Italian authorities. [/restrict]