A selection of 16 Hellenistic silver-gilt items has made its way back to Aidone, Sicily, where a grateful local population viewed it Friday in the town's archaeological museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had held the pieces for almost 30 years, but efforts by scholars and the Italian government to persuade the museum that they had been illegally excavated from the ancient Greek and Roman site of Morgantina — located just outside the Lombard town — finally paid off. The items were returned to Italy in February following a 2006 agreement between the New York institution and the Italian government, but only now have they found their way back to tiny Sicilian town's modest museum.
Italy and the Met will share joint custody of the objects, which will travel every four years between Aidone and New York, the New York Times reports. Archaeologists believe that the silver was most likely buried in a small building known as the House of Eupolemos when Morgantina fell to the Romans in 211 B.C. The Met acquired the silver in 1981 and 1982 for a total of $2.74 million from Robert Hecht, an antiquities dealer based in New York and Paris who is currently on trial in Rome for conspiring to deal in looted artifacts. It is believed that local tombaroli, or professional tomb raiders, provided Hecht, now aged 91, with the items, but their identities are not known.
Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the first Italian scholar to study the objects at the Met over twenty years ago, said that the pieces were used for religious ceremonies and banqueting. They include drinking bowls and a ladle with a handle shaped like a dog's head. Scholars believe that the silver items were hidden inside two large kraters (bowls for mixing wine) and that this protected them over the centuries.
Recently the Aidone museum recovered another significant find as well. Two acrolithic statues of the goddesses Demeter and Persephone that had once been in the collection of New York businessman Maurice Tempelsman were returned last year after it was established that they had also been looted from Morgantina. The acroliths — meaning that their heads and extremities are stone while their trunks are made of wood — have been placed on view draped in tunics specially tailored by Sicilian designer Marella Ferrera.
Next year, the J. Paul Getty Museum Villa in Malibu will return to Aidone a statue of a goddess that it bought in 1988 for $18 million that is also thought to have been stolen from Morgantina. Believed to represent Aphrodite, the statue will be disassembled for transport and reassembled in Sicily. As part of the agreement, Sicily will loan several items to the Getty.
Aidone, which is marked by economic depression, is hoping to become a tourist destination thanks to its growing archaeological collection. The town is not far from the Villa del Casale, a Roman site with extensive mosaics that is already one of the most visited sites in Sicily.