One of them, dubbed “Veiled Head of a Woman”, was previously in the hands of a private collector of other illegal artifacts, according to a statement from the US Embassy in Libya. The other, also a Hellenic bust, had been in the Metropolitan Museum in New York since 1998, the statement said. Both were displayed by Libyan antiquities officials at a reception ceremony in the country’s capital, Tripoli.
Libyan antiquities authorities thanked US officials and law enforcement for the returned items and said they looked forward to future cooperation. The Embassy credited the work of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations officials in recovering the artifacts.
“Although these antiquities were illegally brought to the United States by traffickers, legal efforts have succeeded in returning them to their country of origin,” the embassy statement said.
Libya has many ancient Greek and Roman structures, as well as a wealth of ancient artifacts in its main museum in the capital Tripoli and other museums around the country, although its archaeological sites have been looted for decades.
Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The country was then divided for years between rival administrations in the east and in the west, each supported by an array of militias and foreign governments. .
Large-scale fighting only ceased last year, but Libyans have yet to unite under a single political leadership, despite strenuous efforts by the UN.
The Greeks founded the colony of Cyrene, near the modern city of Shahat, in the 4th century BC. It was later incorporated into the Roman Empire. The United Nations added Cyrene to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1982 and it has been listed as a place particularly at risk due to neglect and looting since 2016.