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Italian police net huge haul of illicit antiquities

Police in southern Italy have seized a large haul of well-preserved artefacts that were illegally excavated between the two southern towns of Benevento and Foggia, near Naples. A total of 584 antiquities were recovered, estimated to be worth around €2m and intended for sale on the black market.

Italian police net huge haul of illicit antiquities
Some of the objects recovered by Italian police in southern Italy [Credit: The Art Newspaper]
Investigations are ongoing, but so far 21 tombaroli, or graverobbers, have been identified by police, while a 46-year-old man from the area has reportedly been charged with handling stolen archaeological objects after investigators searched his property in the nearby town of Castelpagano.

The artefacts are reportedly in very good condition and range from a large ancient Greek krater estimated to be worth around €150,000 to small pieces valued at around €1,500. The collection includes other Greek objects, including a group of fourth-century BC ceramic bowls decorated with red figures, various Etruscan and Corinthian objects, a set of 340 rare coins, many Roman lanterns and a particularly well-preserved helmet.

Colonel Cesare Maragoni, the regional commander of the Guardia di Finanza, the arm of the police responsible for dealing with financial crime and smuggling, called this one of the most important finds in the region’s history. “This find has been the result of an enormous amount of intelligence gathering… and it’s a big blow to the black market that continues to plague our country,” Maragoni told the Italian media.

Speaking at a press conference, Luigina Tomay, the head of the regional superintendency for archaeology in Benevento, said: “The major impact of the black market for antiquities is that it prevents scholars and archaeologists from studying the history of these objects,” since they have been removed from the context of their original sites. Experts will now attempt to establish exactly where each object was excavated.

Gangs of looters are running increasingly complex and technologically advanced operations in southern Italy and authorities are struggling to clamp down on the criminals. “What is clear,” Tomay said, “is that these predators are real professionals”. 

Authors: Tina Lepri and Ermanno Rivetti | Source: The Art Newspaper [August 01, 2013]

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