Saturday, May 28

British Museum Helps Return Looted 2,000-Year-Old Statue to Libya | British museum

An incredibly rare 2,000-year-old marble statue of a smuggled Greek goddess has been returned to Libya after a long-running repatriation case involving experts from the British Museum.

The well-preserved marble statue, dating from the 2nd century BC. C. and probably represents Persophone, it would have been placed in a tomb in a cemetery in the ancient Libyan city of Cyrene. She has carved snake bracelets on her wrists and is holding a small wrist, making her, the museum said, “one of the rarest funerary statues in Cyrenaica.”

The museum first became involved in 2013 when UK Customs asked for help identifying the statue seized by Border Force officials at Heathrow Airport.

Peter Higgs, curator, remembered going to Heathrow and immediately knowing what it was and where it was from.

“It’s impressive,” he said. “It is a beautiful statue three-quarters long, very well preserved, with a few fingers missing. It is technically brilliant because of the way it has been carved, with very sharp details, and the face is very well preserved considering that many Greek statues have lost their noses ”.

British Museum staff Peter Higgs (left) and Hannah Boulton with Libyan embassy charge d'affaires Mohamed Elkoni view the statue at the Libyan embassy in London.
British Museum staff Peter Higgs (left) and Hannah Boulton, with Libyan embassy charge d’affaires Mohamed Elkoni, view the statue at the Libyan embassy in London. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski / PA

It was made to be inserted into a cavity over a tomb and is believed to represent the Greek goddess Persophone. She is believed to show her emerging from the underworld where, according to Greek mythology, she spent a third of the year with Hades.

“It would have been a very high-status grave,” Higgs said. “There are other statues, most of which are still in Libya, in museums. This, personally, I think is one of the best in terms of conservation and quality of carving. “

The figure on the wrist probably represents a memory carried to the afterlife, while the bracelets showing serpents are associated with death and rebirth.

The coolness of its surface suggested that it had only recently been illegally dug, and was likely exported during the 2011 riots when dictator Muammar Gaddafi was deposed and assassinated.

The museum provided evidence for the prosecution in a court case in 2015 and the judge ruled that it was the property of the Libyan state.

Since then, the statue has been stored in a basement at the British Museum while the wheels involved in the process of bringing it back to Libya slowly turned. His repatriation was announced at the Libyan embassy in London on Monday.

“It’s wonderful to be part of a story that has a happy ending,” Higgs said. “He will return to Libya and be in one of their museums as a star piece, it is a lovely feeling to be a part of that.”

Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum, said: “An important part of the museum’s work on cultural heritage involves our close collaboration with law enforcement agencies dealing with illicit trafficking.

“This case is another good example of the benefits of all parties working together to combat looting and protect cultural heritage.”

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