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ARCHAEOLOGY

Italy reclaims looted treasures from Swiss

Switzerland has finalized a 13-year process of returning more than 4,500 ancient artifacts to Italy that were stolen by a criminal gang, the Swiss justice ministry said on Thursday.

Italy reclaims looted treasures from Swiss
A display at Rome's Quirinale museum - the works shown are not those recovered by Swiss authorities. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The Alpine country this week repatriated the final 68 looted artifacts to its southern neighbour, ending a restitution process that began in 2001, the  ministry said in a statement.

"This restitution marks the end of a procedure of judicial mutual assistance that has lasted for years and has allowed for the return of a total of 4,536 objects," it said.

Switzerland still has several hundred objects seized from art dealers in its possession, Basel public prosecutor spokesman Peter Gill told AFP.

"We are still trying to determine their origin," he said, adding that they did not come from Italy.

Italian authorities requested Switzerland's help with the case in 2001 after uncovering a criminal gang – including an antiques dealer, businessmen, a banker and others – that had been smuggling artifacts out of the country.

Swiss prosecutors have since seized some 5,800 objects, most of which came from illegal digs in Italy, including around 100 archaeological treasures from the Etruscan and Roman periods.

Five icons were also found to have been stolen in Greece and returned to Greek authorities.

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ARCHAEOLOGY

Remains of nine Neanderthals found in Italian cave

The fossil remains of nine Neanderthal men have been found in a cave in Italy, the culture ministry announced Saturday, a major discovery in the study of our ancient cousins.

Neanderthal fossils discovered in Italy
Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

All the individuals found in the Guattari Cave in San Felice Circeo, located on the coast between Rome and Naples, are believed to be adults, although one might have been a youth.

Eight of them date to between 50,000 and 68,000 years ago, while the oldest could be 90,000 or 100,000 years old, the ministry said in a statement.

“Together with two others found in the past on the site, they bring the total number of individuals present in the Guattari Cave to 11, confirming it as one of the most significant sites in the world for the history of Neanderthal man,” the ministry said.

READ ALSO: Ancient Roman home and mosaics unearthed during Italian apartment renovation

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini hailed the find as “an extraordinary discovery which the whole world will be talking about”.

Francesco Di Mario, who led the excavation project, said it represented a Neanderthal population that would have been quite large in the area.

Local director of anthropology Mario Rubini said the discovery will shed “important light on the history of the peopling of Italy”.

“Neanderthal man is a fundamental stage in human evolution, representing the apex of a species and the first human society we can talk about,” he said.

The findings follow new research begun in October 2019 into the Guattari
Cave, which was found by accident by a group of workers in February 1939.

On visiting the site shortly afterwards, paleontologist Albert Carlo Blanc made a stunning find – a well-preserved skull of a Neanderthal man.

The cave had been closed off by an ancient landslide, preserving everything inside as a snapshot in time that is slowly offering up its secrets.

Recent excavations have also found thousands of animal bones, notably those
of hyenas and the prey they are believed to have brought back to the cave to eat or store as food.

There are remains of large mammals including elephant, rhinoceros, giant deer, cave bear, wild horses and aurochs – extinct bovines.

“Many of the bones found show clear signs of gnawing,” the ministry statement said.

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