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Pompeii restored with help of artefact thieves

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Pompeii was destroyed by a sudden volcanic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pompeii photo: Shutterstock
13:37 CET+01:00
The ruins of Pompeii are being restored with the aid of a most unlikely source – thieves with a conscience who are returning fragments once stolen from the ancient Roman city.

In October a Canadian woman made headlines around the world when she returned a fragment she stole from Pompeii on her honeymoon 50 years ago.

Massimo Osanna, the director of one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions, said this was not an isolated case and hundreds of archaeological artefacts had been sent back to the museum in recent years, often with a letter of apology.

“We have been receiving hundreds of packages with hundreds of fragments now for years,” Osanna told the Italian daily, Il Messaggero.

“People write expressing regret, having realized they have made a terrible mistake and that they would never do it again and for this reason they are sending the stolen pieces back.

“But the most curious thing, from an anthropological point of view, are the letters that accompany the stolen fragments which reveal a cross-section of people worth studying.”

He said the Special Archaeological Superintendency which manages Pompeii and other ancient sites had received tiles, pieces of painted plaster, bricks and stone in the post.

Osanna said that one particular fresco fragment that had been returned was crucial in the restoration of the Casa del Frutteto, or house of the orchard keeper. It was stolen in the 1980s and sent back to officials in March.

Alessandro Pintucci, the president of the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists, welcomed the latest news saying it was important for stolen objects to be returned but warned more security was needed to stop historical artefacts being stolen from cultural sites.

"This is a problem not only for Pompeii, but many other sites," he told The Local. "For too long there has not been enough security."

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"When I worked at Pompeii between 1999 and 2003, areas that were closed to the public were often easy targets for robberies because it was easy to enter. It doesn't take much to grab a piece of a mosaic or a tile and walk away."

Pompeii was destroyed by a sudden volcanic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts around 2.5 million visitors every year.

READ MORE: Pompeii: Canadian gives back relic after 50 years

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