Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC

This photo provided by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office in New York shows seven stolen ancient artifacts that were recovered by authorities being displayed on a table at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Thursday, May 25, 2017. The ancient statues and pottery vessels are headed back to their homeland in Italy after authorities said they tracked down the stolen items in New York City. (Laura J. Badger/Manhattan District Attorney's Office via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Seven ancient statues and pottery vessels are headed back to their homeland in Italy after authorities said they tracked down the stolen items in New York City.

Dating back as far as the eighth century B.C., the artifacts were looted by Italian tomb raiders in the 1990s, then were smuggled out of the country and eventually turned up at two New York art galleries, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said Thursday while returning the artifacts to Italian officials.

“A big ‘grazie,’ ” said Italian Consul General Francesco Genuardi, thanking the city. “These pieces of art are a powerful display of the importance we attach, together, to the preservation of art heritage.”

The three statues depict a rather friendly-looking ox, a warrior and the mythological hero Herakles, also known as Heracles and Hercules. The four pottery pieces include a wine jug decorated with rams and panthers, a drinking cup featuring two goats butting heads, and two oil flasks. The items, each from the third century B.C. or earlier, are valued at over $90,000 in all.

But “no price tag can be placed on cultural heritage,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo.

No one has been charged in the case, and prosecutors declined to identify the galleries. They voluntarily gave up the artifacts after authorities brought evidence of their origins, Friedman Agnifilo said. U.S. federal officials and Italian authorities also worked on the case.

Before going back to Italy, the objects will be displayed at the consulate on Italy’s Republic Day holiday June 2, Genuardi said.

Italy and other countries have striven in recent years to reclaim looted and lost artifacts they consider part of their cultural patrimony.

Some museums have returned items, and Manhattan D.A. Cyrus R. Vance’s office and other authorities in the U.S. have also played a role in arranging to send antiquities, fossils and other objects back to countries ranging from Pakistan to Peru . Vance’s office returned a 2,500-year-old Etruscan vessel to Italy just this March.

There have been some prosecutions, including a case against a prominent coin collector who pleaded guilty in 2012 to trying to sell what he believed were ancient coins found in Italy after removing antiquities became illegal in 1909. Those coins turned out to be forgeries, but some authentic ancient Greek ones from his collection were returned to the country in 2014.