American authorities return stolen Phoenician statues to Lebanon

American, Lebanese officials announce the return of stolen Phoenician artifacts to Lebanon during a December news conference in New York, NY.

Three ancient statues stolen during Lebanon’s civil war have returned to Beirut Friday after New York authorities discovered the treasures and contacted Lebanese officials.

The ancient Phoenician treasures include a bull’s head, calf bearer and torso – all made from marble. Officials believe they were stolen, sold to an antiquities dealer and shipped to New York.

Angel Melendez, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security in New York, said the artifacts were seized and later forfeited by the private owners.

The trafficking of cultural property and art is a lucrative criminal enterprise that transnational criminal organizations seek to partake of to make a profit,” Melendez said. “The cultural significance and worth of these returned treasures is beyond any monetary value.”

According to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, the antiquities are valued at millions of dollars:

Torso E1912

ancient artifact 1

Authorities recovered the marble torso in November from a private owner, and discovered it was excavated in the 1970s from the Temple of Eshmun, an ancient place of worship near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon.

The torso dates back to the 4th century B.C.E.

Calf Bearer

ancient artifact 3

The calf bearer was discovered and recovered in October from a private owner. Authorities also believe it came from the Temple of Eshmun.

It is believed to date back to 6th century B.C.E., and is valued at about $4.5 million.

Bull’s Head

ancient artifact 2

A curator discovered the ancient bull’s head in July at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and notified authorities.

The artifact was on loan for display by a private collector at the museum – the largest art museum in the United States.

It is believed to be worth about $1.2 million, and dates back to 360 B.C.E. Authorities said it was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1960s, transferred to the Byblos Citadel in Jubayl and stolen during the civil war.

“When you put a price tag on these artifacts, it is all too easy to forget that these are not just valuable collector’s items,” said U.S. District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. “These are rare, celebrated remnants of entire civilizations’ culture and history.”

Vance announced his office would create a Antiquities Trafficking Unit to stop the trade of stolen antiquities from sites around the world. He thanked Lebanese officials for their cooperation in the investigation and return of the artifacts.

“I sincerely appreciate the efforts of the district attorney and his office for their efforts to enforce the rule of law,” said Majdi Ramadan, Consul General of Lebanon in New York.

Many antiquities were stolen from Lebanon during its 15-year civil war.

The National Museum in Beirut will display the artifacts starting in February.

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