Other cases of return or restitution of cultural objects

In some cases, the 1970 Convention does not apply formally: either the States involved have not ratified this instrument or one condition if application is not fulfilled (as non-retroactivity). Other solutions are therefore sought so that Parties concerned can find a mutually acceptable agreement. Even if they do not reflect a strict application of the dispositions of the Convention, these solutions are often adopted in accordance with the spirit and the principles contained in this treaty.

Guatemala, November 2017

©Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Guatemala

Guatemala successfully repatriated 18 pre-Columbian archaeological objects, which were illegally exported from the country in the 60s and located in Germany, Italy and Switzerland. More

USA – Lebanon, October 2017

A 2,300-year-old marble sculpture of a bull’s head will be returned to Lebanon Credit William and Lynda Beierwaltes

The 2,300-year-old sculpture had been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art until July when the museum turned it over to authorities after a curator raised concerns about its provenance to Lebanese officials, who requested its return. More

Republic of Korea – Mongolia, April 2017

©Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea returned 11 dinosaur fossils that were smuggled into the country from Mongolia.
The fossils include those of Tarbosaurus Bataar, a large carnivorous dinosaur whose remains are found only in Mongolia. The Supreme Prosecutors’ Office held a ceremony on 7 April to return the fossils, which were illegally brought into the country in 2014. More

USA – Italy, March 2017

The vase “Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora, ” a dual-handled vessel dating from 470 B.C. that is valued at $250,000. Credit Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

A stolen Etruscan vessel will be returned to Italy thanks in part to the efforts of a hunter of looted antiquities.

Last month, Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek-born researcher who has spent more than a decade poring over auction and antiquities catalogs trying to identify stolen Greek and Roman artifacts, spotted an Etruscan amphora for sale at a Midtown Manhattan gallery.

Mr. Tsirogiannis, of the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research in Glasgow, combed through an archive of 13,000 photos and documents seized in 2002 from an Italian antiquities dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was convicted in 2011 of trafficking in looted objects. He spotted several photos of the very same vase.  More

Germany – Canada, December 2016

Jan Porcellis (1584-1632), Ships in Distress on a Stormy Sea. Photo: Max and Iris Stern Foundation.

Two valuable paintings of former Dutch masters, despoiled by the Nazis in the late 1930s, were returned to the beneficiaries of a German Jewish art dealer exiled to Canada.

The paintings, “Ships in Distress on a Stormy Sea,” by the marine artist Jan Porcellis (1584-1632), and “Landscape with Goats” by the animal painter Willem Buytewech the Younger (1625-1670), were recovered from an auction in Germany, which facilitated their restitution.

They were presented to the Max-Stern Foundation and its three beneficiary institutions, Concordia and McGill universities in Montreal and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.More

Germany – Iraq, January 2016

© Yu Zhang/ICOM

Germany returned to the Republic of Iraq a Sumerian clay cuneiform tablet on 14 January 2016. It dates from 2049 B.C. and records the distribution of flour to the crew of a ship. The tablet was offered in an online auction, in violation of the ban on trade with Iraqi cultural property in the EU, and seized by a criminal police office in the State of Schleswig-Holstein. More

Germany – Iraq, November 2015

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Vorderasiatisches Museum / Olaf M. Teßmer

The President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz) handed over a 2,600 years old clay brick, with an inscription of the Babylonian King Nebukadnezar, to his Excellency the ambassador of the Republic of Iraq in Berlin. This object had been illegally removed from Iraq in 1975 by an individual, who had recently donated it to the Foundation.

Switzerland – Egypt, June 2015

Restituted objects © OFC

The Swiss Federal Office of Culture returned to the Egyptian Embassy in Bern, a batch of 32 ancient cultural objects, dating from the Pharaonic and Roman periods. Four of the returned items are extremely rare and of remarkable aesthetic quality: the bust of a king wearing a crown, a fragmented stele in honour of  King Siptah depicting the patron goddess of Thebes from the era of the New Kingdom (approx. 1500-1000 B.C.), and two architectural fragments depicting scenes of worship dating back to the Roman period (approx. 753 B.C. to 476 A.D.).
More information (available only in French)

Bulgaria – April 2015

Thracian mask and helmet © Prosecutor’s Office of Republic of Bulgaria

The Archaeology Museum in Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s second biggest town, recovered in April 2015 a Roman Thracian silver mask and helmet, stolen in 1995 following an armed robbery. Following a successful investigation led by the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office in Bulgaria, the precious artifact was returned to the museum. The mask and helmet date back to 1st century AD, and belonged to a Thracian aristocrat from ancient Philipopolis (nowadays Plovdiv) in whose burial mound it was discovered in the early 20th century.

Cambodia – 2015

Pandava statue © UNESCO

Between 2013 and 2015, Cambodia obtained the return of six of the nine statues of great cultural heritage significance, which were looted from Prasat Chen, Koh Ker and had been located abroad. UNESCO acted as a facilitator in the discussions. More information

Germany – Peru, March 2015

Restituted object © Landeskriminalamt Berlin

During the visit of German State President Joachim Gauck to Peru an ancient ritual knife (“Tumi”) was handed over to the Government of Peru on 20 March 2015. The knife is around 800 years old and forms part of the rich cultural heritage of Peru. Probably it had been excavated illegally in the Lambayeque region. German authorities seized it in Berlin in 2013, where it had been offered for sale by an auction house.

Germany – Italy, January 2015

Grave goods from Laterza / Italy © RGZM, V. Iserhardt

On 22 January, the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz (RGZM) handed over to Italy a collection of grave goods, dating back to the 5th millennium BC. The outstanding complex with a precious jadeite axe head sheds light on an early European elite, maintaining long distance relations between societies in Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, France and the British Isles. The seven artifacts were looted from a tomb near Laterza in Puglia, acquired by the RGZM on the art market in 1986 and now returned to the Soprintendenza per I Beni Archeologici della Puglia, which already has plans for an exhibition.

Germany – Greece, June 2014

Cycladic pan, dating from 2700-2400 BC © Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe

On 6 June, the state of Baden-Württemberg handed over two objects from the Cycladic culture – a marble figurine dating from 2700-2300 BC and a pan dating from 2700-2400 BC – to Greece. Both objects had been acquired by the Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe in the 1970s and were returned in the spirit of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

France – Nigeria, February 2014


An expertise conducted under the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the National Museum of Natural History of France made possible to determine that this statue seized in 2012 is a cultural object of the Nok civilization. This civilization appears in Nigeria in 1500 BC. and extinct at the end of the first millennium BC. J.-C., at the confluence of the Niger river and the Benue (center of Nigeria). This is a very advanced civilization, both in terms of its social organization and its refinement, at a time when the rest of Southern Africa entered the Neolithic era. Nok culture is considered to be the oldest terracotta producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

The statue was stored at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, which took care of it gracefully. It was handed over by the President of the French Republic to Nigeria on the occasion of his travel on 27 February 2014.

Germany – Iraq, September 2013

Cylinder seals © German Federal Foreign Office

Thirteen ancient artifacts have been returned to Iraq, among them at least one object stolen from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad in 2003.

Among the objects seized by German law enforcement authorities were eight cylinder seals of up to 5000 years of age as well as several sculptures.

Tablet of cuneiform script © German Federal Foreign Office

Respecting the instructions left in the will of a private individual, a group of heirs has conveyed a tablet of cuneiform script, that presumably originated from the Nimrod palace, to the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq, in Berlin.

France – Nigeria, July 2013

© Ministère des Affaires étrangères et du Développement international

These 6 objects were seized in 2010 and 2011. An expertise conducted under the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the National Museum of Natural History of France, made possible to determine precisely the origins of these six statues dated from the Neolithic and the 11th-14th centuries. They come partly from the collection of the Esi Museum (State of Kwara) and are inscribed on the ICOM Red List.

These works were handed on 14 July 2013 by Mr. Jacques de Labriolle, French Ambassador to Nigeria, to Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

Source: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/illicit-trafficking-of-cultural-property/other-cases-of-return-or-restitution-of-cultural-objects/

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