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Ancient fresco from Herculaneum among dozens of treasures returned to Italy from the United States

origin 1A Pompeian-style fresco from Herculaneum entitled “Young Hercules and the Serpent”, dated to the 1st and 2nd AD ©AP Photo

Looks like Hercules is finally home!

An ancient fresco of the demigod, originally from Herculaneum, a city destroyed together with Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, was returned to Italy, together with 59 other important finds, after being trafficked illegally into the United States.

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

Among the most valuable pieces that Italian and US officials showed reporters in Rome are a BC kylix and a two-handled shallow drinking vessel, believed to be around 2,600 years old. A sculpted marble head, from the 2nd century BC, depicting the goddess Athena is also returned.

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

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How were the ancient artifacts recovered?

origin 1The carabinieri put on display 60 archaeological finds stolen in ItalyAndrew Medichini/AP Photo

The returned pieces had been sold by art dealers and ended up in US private collections. They did not have documentation proving that they could legally be taken 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 enacted.

Among those in attendance at Monday’s presentation was Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, head of that office’s unit that combats the illicit trafficking of antiquities. On this investigation, his office worked jointly with a specialized branch of the Italian paramilitary Carabinieri’s art team.

“For Italian antiquities alone we carried out 75 raids, recovered more than 500 priceless treasures worth over $55 million,” Bogdanos said.

origin 1Carabinieri Commander Gen. Vincenzo Molinese, left, talks with Col. Matthew Bogdans of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office at a press conference in RomeAndrew Medichini/AP Photo

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

The country has been so successful in recovering such old art and artifacts that it has created a museum for them. The Museo dell’Arte Salvata opened in June in a cavernous structure that’s part of Rome’s ancient Baths of Diocletian.

Italy’s cultural authorities are deciding whether to assign the last returned pieces to museums close to where they are believed to have been excavated. Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano told reporters another possibility is to have a special exhibition of the returned pieces.

origin 1A marble head of Athena, datable to the 2nd century BC, is seen on display among other archaeological finds stolen from ItalyAP Photo
origin 1A Pompeian-style fresco from Herculaneum entitled “The young Hercules and the serpent”, dated to the 1st century AD Photo
origin 1A bronze male bust, dated between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD, is displayed among other archaeological finds stolen from ItalyAndrew Medichini/AP Photo
origin 1A Kylix plate, dated to the 5th century BC, is displayed among other archaeological artifacts stolen from ItalyAndrew Medichini/AP Photo

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