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Ministry of Culture / Return of antiquities from an American museum and university that possessed them illegally

Featured Ministry of Culture / Return of antiquities from an American museum and university that possessed them illegally

Three Greek antiquities are being returned from the Michael Carlos Museum of Emory University in Atlanta, USA, but while they are certified antiquities, the Greek state has entered into a cultural agreement with the museum that owned them, which includes periodic exhibitions and loans of antiquities, but even excavations in Greece by the University – "umbrella" of the museum.

In particular, as the Ministry of Culture informs, the antiquities come from Crete, Epirus and Attica and are the products of illegal excavations that were trafficked by antiquities circles and were illegally exported from Greece, before ending up in the Carlos Museum.

The three items:

Clay Minoan urn of the bather type, with fish decoration on the inside and a stylized octopus on the outside dating to the 14th c. e.g.
Marble statue of a young female figure, resting with her left elbow on a high tree trunk and dating to the 2nd century. e.g. and
Marble male robed figure seated on a bifo, originating from the relief decoration of an Attic tomb temple of the third quarter of the 4th c. e.g.

The Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni stated, among other things, that "since 2007, when the competent Services of the Ministry of Culture became aware of information questioning the legality of the acquisition by the Museum of the Minoan urn and the statue of the female figure, contacts began of both sides for their return".

“In 2021, one more antiquity was added, the marble male figure, as officers of the Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Properties found evidence of its illegal trafficking.

In addition to the Polaroid photographs of these objects in temporary storage, which the Greek authorities had, other evidence was collected, such as the judgments of the Greek courts, which ruled that the marble male figure was the product of illegal appropriation and illegal export, evidence from case files documenting that the female statue had come from an illegal excavation in the Epirus region and documents and photographs proving the illegal trafficking of the Minoan urn

"As in all cases of claims, and since the Greek Ministry of Culture now had not indications, but strong evidence, it sent the full documentation and submitted through the diplomatic authorities an official request for their repatriation in 2021."

Despite the fact that since 2007 Greece has demanded the stolen antiquities back, with proof, the Museum's response was that it had checked the provenance of the objects, before acquiring them, and "no dispute had arisen".

According to the Ministry of Culture, until 2020, informal contacts between the two sides continued, but without any substantial progress.

In 2021, after the Ministry of Culture sent a new official letter to the Museum and a series of contacts with the diplomatic authorities of the country, the dialogue was restarted.

The competent Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Properties of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs searched for and re-evaluated all the documentation of the Greek claim.

With the assistance of the Legal Council of the State, he gained access to old court files and gathered evidence that proved, beyond any doubt, the illegal trafficking of the female statue from the region of Epirus and in particular Dodoni, while through requests for judicial assistance, to the Italian authorities, sought photographic material and documents from the confiscated Bekina archive that proved the illegal trafficking of the Minoan urn.

For the pithos, the Service had at its disposal photographs from the Bekina archive, as well as expert reports from special committees that had identified the object with the one in the Carlos Museum.

However, doubts were raised about its origin from Greece.

In November 2021, the DTPPA's careful research also led to the identification of the marble male figure, from an epitaph in the Museum's collections, with an object depicted in Polaroid photographs in the Bekina archive. This object, in fact, is also included in the list of objects for which Greek justice has finally and irrevocably ruled, in the context of a criminal case, as a product of misappropriation by Greece.

In April 2022, the file, with all the documentation, was submitted to the Greek Embassy in Washington and - with the mediation of the Consul of Greece in Atlanta - a new round of contacts between the representatives of the Museum and the Ministry of Culture began. In April 2023, Henry Kim, director of the Museum, and his colleagues visited Athens to discuss all the scientific and legal arguments of the Greek side.

In June 2023, the Carlos Museum informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through diplomatic authorities, of the intention of the Board of Directors of Emory University to return the three objects, for which there was irrefutable proof, to Greece.

At the same time, he declared the Museum's will to cooperate closely with the services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in order to proceed with the verification of the legality of origin of the other Greek antiquities in the Collection. Especially for the pithos, the effort to find other elements from the Greek side will continue.

Therefore, despite the fact that the museum in question had sequestered and even refused to return them for about 18 years, the Greek state entered into a cultural cooperation agreement with it, within the logic of "exchange", which includes periodic exhibitions and loans of antiquities, in order to "promote Greek culture", as the minister argued.

In fact, the vice chancellor of Emory University, Dr. Ravi Bellamkonda, stated that "the signed agreement provides an opportunity for cooperation with the Greek museums as well as opportunities for the students and professors of the university who carry out archaeological excavations in Samothraki and the Ancient Agora".

The antiquities are immediately returned to Greece and will be presented to the public, before ending up in the museums of the regions they came from.