The United States has returned smuggled artefacts to Libya as the oil-rich Mediterranean country struggles to preserve its heritage amid years of war, unrest and instability.
TRIPOLI, Libya – The United States on Thursday returned smuggled artefacts to Libya as the oil-rich Mediterranean country struggles to preserve its heritage amid years of war, unrest and instability.
Among the items returned are two sculptures from the ancient city of Siren dating to the 4th century BC.
According to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Libya, a “woman with a veiled head” was previously in the hands of a private collector of other illegal works of art. The other, a Hellenic bust, has been in the New York Metropolitan Museum since 1998, the statement said. Libyan antiquities officials displayed both at a reception in the country’s capital, Tripoli.
Libyan antiquities authorities have thanked American officials and law enforcement agencies for the returned items and said they look forward to future cooperation. The embassy credits the work of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigation Officers for retrieving the patterns.
A statement from the embassy said, “Although these antiquities were smuggled into the United States by traffickers, legal efforts have been successful in repatriating them.”
Libya boasts of many ancient Greek and Roman structures, the main museum in its capital Tripoli and other museums across the country have a wealth of antiquities, although its archeological sites have been looted for decades.
Libya has been in turmoil since the fall and assassination of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011. The country has for many years been divided between rival administrations in the East and the West, each supported by militias and foreign governments. .
Large-scale fighting has only stopped in the past year, but Libyans have not yet been able to unite under a single political leadership, despite strenuous efforts by the United Nations.
The Greeks settled Sirin near the modern city of Shahat in the 4th century BC, which later became part of the Roman Empire. The United Nations added siren to its list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1982, and it has been classified as a particularly endangered place since 2016 due to neglect and looting.