Ancient Herculaneum fresco among dozen of treasures returned to Italy from US

Ancient Herculaneum fresco among dozen of treasures returned to Italy from US

It looks like Hercules is finally home!

An ancient fresco of the demigod, originally from Herculaneum, a city destroyed along with Pompeii by the 79 A.D. eruption of Mount Vesuvius, has been returned to Italy, along with 59 other important artefacts, after being illegally trafficked to the US.

Last summer, US authorities announced that the fresco and dozens of other trafficked objects, which ended up in private collections in the United States, would go back to Italy.

Among the more precious pieces Italian and US officials displayed to journalists in Rome is a B.C. kylix and a shallow two-handled drinking vessel, believed to be around 2,600 years old. Also returned is a sculpted marble head, from the 2nd century B.C., depicting the goddess Athena.

Italian authorities have said the returned works are worth more than $20 million (€18.4 million) overall.

How were the ancient artefacts recovered?

Andrew Medichini/AP Photo
Carabinieri police officers put on display 60 archaeological artifacts stolen from Italy - Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

The returned pieces had been sold by art dealers, and ended up in private US collections. They lacked documentation to prove they could be legally brought abroad from Italy.

Under a 1909 Italian law, archaeological objects excavated in Italy cannot leave the country without permission unless they were taken abroad before the law was made.

Among those at Monday's presentation was Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, chief of that office's unit combatting illicit trafficking in antiquities. On this investigation, his office worked jointly with a specialised art squad branch of Italy's paramilitary Carabinieri.

"For Italian antiquities alone we have executed 75 raids, recovered more than 500 priceless treasures valued at more than $55 million,'' Bogdanos said.

Andrew Medichini/AP Photo
Carabinieri Commander Gen. Vincenzo Molinese, left, talks with Col. Matthew Bogdans from the District Attorney's office of Manhattan at a press conference in Rome - Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

Italy has been a pioneer in retrieving illegally exported antiquities from museums and private collections abroad.

The country has been so successful in recovering such ancient artworks and artefacts that it created a museum for them. The Museum of Rescued Art was inaugurated in June in a cavernous structure that is part of Rome’s ancient Baths of Diocletian.

Italian cultural authorities are deciding whether to assign the latest returned pieces to museums near to where they were believed to have been excavated. Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano told reporters that another possibility is having a special exhibition of the returned pieces.

AP Photo
A marble head of Atena, dated to the II century B.C., is seen on display among other archaeological artifacts stolen from Italy - AP Photo
AP Photo
A Pompeiian style fresco from Herculaneum titled "Young Hercules and the snake", dated to the I second A.C - AP Photo
Andrew Medichini/AP Photo
A bronze male bust, dated between the first century B.C. and the first century A.C. is seen on display among other archaeological artifacts stolen from Italy - Andrew Medichini/AP Photo
Andrew Medichini/AP Photo
A Kylix dish, dated to the V century B.C., is seen on display among other archaeological artifacts stolen from Italy - Andrew Medichini/AP Photo

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