The Australian National University’s (ANU) Classics Museum has recently uncovered that several of its artefacts stolen goods from Italy, with one artefact suspected of being smuggled in a pasta package.
These artefacts date back to 530 BC, and notably, one artefact, a marble head, was traced back to theft from the Vatican.
Italian Law Enforcement’s Art Specialists Initiated this Issue Last Year.
At that time, they established a link between an ancient Mediterranean amphora possessed by ANU and the activities of a notorious illegal antiquities dealer in Italy.
ANU acquired the artefact, a 2,500-year-old vase, in 1984 from Sotheby’s in London, believing it to be legitimate.
However, the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage confirmed that the vase had been illicitly excavated by matching it with a Polaroid photo found during a prior criminal investigation.
Subsequently, the Carabinieri requested access to all documentation related to the museum’s artefacts stolen.
Dr. Georgia Pike-Rowney, the Curator of ANU’s Classics Museum, disclosed that the search led to the discovery of a second stolen artefact: a red-figure Apulian fish plate acquired in 1984 from ‘Holland Coins and Antiquities’ in the United States.
“We now know that it was smuggled out of Italy by another infamous dealer in illicit antiquities named David Holland Swingler,” revealed Dr. Pike-Rowney.
She further explained that during a trip to Italy, David collected materials directly from the “tombaroli,” which literally translates to ‘grave robbers’ and refers to those involved in unauthorized excavations. These materials were then clandestinely transported to the United States, hidden among packages of pasta and other Italian foods.
The Third Stolen Item
The third stolen item is a Roman marble head, purchased from Sotheby’s in London in 1968. This artefact was originally the property of the Vatican and was displayed at the Lateran Palace in Rome. However, the circumstances surrounding its theft remain a mystery.
Dr. Pike-Rowney expressed bewilderment, stating, “We really don’t know how an item from a museum that closed in 1970 could become part of Australia’s collection in 1968.”
ANU has officially committed to returning the amphora and fish plate to the Italian government. Dr. Pike-Rowney affirmed that ANU’s policy on repatriation is unequivocal, with unconditional repatriation when there is compelling evidence, and no requests for compensation.
The Italian government has granted the university permission to lend the amphora and fish plate for the next four years.