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ARCHAEOLOGY

Excavator hid Roman sarcophagi in home

An excavator has been given a sixth-month jail sentence for hiding sarcophagi and other Roman artefacts in his home, Italian media reported on Friday.

Excavator hid Roman sarcophagi in home
The sarcophagus pictured is not one of those seized by the police. Sarcophagus photo: Shutterstock

Michele Della Polla, the owner of an excavations company, was sentenced this week after police found prized objects in his home and a storehouse in the Rome area.

Two marble sarcophagi, an oil lamp and tiles were among the items Della Polla’s had chosen to keep instead of reporting them to authorities.

Investigators deemed the artefacts to be “an important testimony to the Roman era (which) could have come from illegal excavations.”

Della Polla said he was unaware of the items’ importance. “I didn’t report anything to the superintendency because I didn’t believe there was anything of historic or artistic value,” he was quoted in Il Messaggero as saying.

The 54-year-old said that some of the items in his home were found over 20 years ago, during excavation works linked to the construction of a church in the Tor Bella Monaca area.

Other valuable pieces were found by a worker, in the Prima Porta area, Della Polla claimed: “The sarcophagi and the other seized objects were found by my employee who died in 2009 during a site accident.”

The man piled up the items and they were forgotten about, Della Polla said. 

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CRIME

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

Authorities in New York announced on Thursday the return to Italy of 14 more antiquities, worth an estimated €2.3 million, as part of an investigation into smuggling of stolen artifacts.

New York returns 214 stolen artworks to Italy in seven months

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been conducting an extensive investigation over the past two years into looted antiquities that have ended up in New York museums and galleries — including the prestigious Metropolitan Museum of Art.

During a ceremony on Thursday with the Italian consul general and Italian police representatives, 14 more artifacts – some 2,600 years old – were officially returned to Italy, bringing the total number of repatriated pieces to that country over the past seven months to 214, District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said.

READ ALSO: Italian ‘art squad’ police recover 800 illegally-excavated archaeological finds

More than 700 pieces worth more than $100 million have been returned in the past year to 17 countries, including Italy as well as Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, and Greece, the statement added.

New York, a hub of stolen antiquities trafficking for decades, set up a task force in 2017 to investigate the illicit trade.

According to the statement by District Attorney Bragg, who took office in January 2022, Thursday’s repatriation included the silver “Sicily Naxos Coin,” minted around 430 BCE and currently valued at half a million dollars.

Other notable items included ancient pottery dating to 510 BCE, and amarble head of Roman Emperor Hadrian, dating to 200 CE.

Among the culprits behind the 14 returned pieces, the statement said, were well-known art traffickers Giacomo Medici and Giovanni Franco Becchina, as well as Robert Hecht, the Paris-based American art dealer who died in 2012.

The traffickers had “relied on gangs of tombaroli (tomb raiders) to loot carefully chosen and insufficiently guarded archaeological sites throughout the Mediterranean,” it added.

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