Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Jr. announced Friday the return of two antiquities collectively valued at $1.26 million to the people of Libya, saying in a statement that the pieces, “Marble Face of a Ptolemaic Queen” and “Female Bust,” were looted from the ancient city of Cyrene and smuggled by convicted British art trafficker Robin Symes, who served as the front man for multiple smuggling networks selling looted antiquities to high-end European and American buyers.
The statement said that Symes acquired the two Libyan antiquities for his personal collection and had them stowed away in a New York storage unit for over two decades. The return comes just as archaeologists in Libya recently discovered what appeared to be the torso of the Female Bust still in its original tomb at the ancient city.
The two antiquities were returned during a repatriation ceremony attended by the Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of Libya Khalid Dayif, and US Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge, Thomas Acocella.
The US embassy in Libya said this achievement “stands as yet another example of the valuable results of our 2018 bilateral US-Libya Cultural Property Agreement, as well as Washington’s commitment to the protection and preservation of cultural heritage in Libya.
“It is shameful that these beautiful pieces were stored away for decades by a convicted trafficker. Cyrene has faced significant looting, but thanks to the work of our Antiquities Trafficking Unit and partners at Homeland Security, we have now returned several pieces from this ancient city back to the people of Libya. We continue to have ongoing investigations into stolen Libyan artifacts and look forward to more repatriation ceremonies in the future,” said District Attorney Bragg.
The statement indicated that the Libyan antiquities first surfaced on the international art market in following rampant looting at ancient city of Cyrene during the late 1980s and 1990s, adding that the Female Bust would have been part of an important funerary relief that decorated the necropolis, or ancient cemetery, of Cyrene. During recent excavations, researchers believe they recently discovered the bottom half of the looted Female Bust still intact in a tomb at the archaeological site.