America Oggi/ Oggi7
3 Oct 2004
Police Intervention/ Grab the Archaeological
Finds and Flee... To the Met
by: Charles Vincent Sabba Jr.
The Sicilian branch of the Italian Ministry of Culture has cut all ties with
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over a cache of ancient Greek
silver that is believed to have been illicitly excavated and
smuggled out of Sicily. Works from Sicily will no longer be loned to the
Manhattan Museum that is believed to have many other treasures, which like
the silver horde, have a dubious provenance, and have been
looted from Aidone, the site of ancient Morgantina.
Morgantina, a 10th century b.c.e. Greek settlement, was the last remaining
Greek outpost of Greek civilization in Sicily, until 211 b.c.e., when it was
conquered by the Romans. The treasures of this Greek city-state
remained underground for more than two thousand years.
"We knew only of rumors of the discovery of the silver for years," stated
Prof. Malcolm Bell of Virginia University.
Prof. Bell became the director of the Morgantina excavations in 1980 (a year
before the museum bought the famous silver), along with Prof. Carla
Antonaccio of Wesleyan University, who is co-director of the
The locals were talking about the clandestini who unearthed the silver:
utensils, bowls, and two silver horns.
These pieces were so stunning, even the clandestini knew how precious they
In the summer of 1984, the Met published a bulletin titled "A Greek and
Roman Treasury". In this bulletin a Met curator proclaimed that the fifteen
silver objects represented some of the finest Hellenistic silver
known from Magna Grecia.
Bell saw this bulletin, along with Prof. Pier Giovanni Guzzo, superintendent
of archaeology in Pompeii, and the two knew that it corresponded with the
rumors they had heard about in Aidone.
Dr. Bell was asked by a Sicilian magistrate named Silvio Raffiotta, who led
a zealous ten year investigation into the silver's true provenance, to
excavate the site believed to be where the silver was discovered.
"We excavated a house that was built in the 4th century b.c.e. and abandoned
in 211 b.c.e., and discovered alot of evidence that the site was excavated
after 1978," Dr. Bell stated. In fact, they discovered two holes,
with newly turned dirt covering them, where Bell believes the pieces were
discovered, and then sold to the Museum. Bell declared: "The Met bought the
silver in two purchases in 1981 and 1982. In the dirt of one of
these holes we discovered a modern coin, a 100 lira piece dated 1978 that
one of the looters inadvertently left behind."
"These looters damage walls, go through floors, and destroy various valuable
objects and so forth, because they are only interested in precious metal."
Dr. Raffiotta received the sworn testimony of one of the looters who
participated in the discovery, in which a detailed description of the
fifteen silver objects was given, including the most stunning, a silver disk
the image of Scylla on it.
The looters were paid $1,100 (U.S.) by an antiques dealer, who was
previously involved in the sale of the Euphronious Krater, and sold it to
the Met for $2.74 million (U.S.). The Euphronious Krater, bought by the
Met in the early seventies, is believed to have been looted from an Etruscan
tomb in Tuscany, Italy. This dealer was labeled a persona non-grata in
Prof. Bell, who has a doctorate from Princeton, declared: "Prof. Guzzo
examined attentively the treasure and is positive that the artistic style of
the work is of Greek Sicilian origin."
"Other evidence was the system of weights and measures used to weigh the
silver. A numeric system, unique to the Greeks in Sicily, was incised on the
front and backs of the pieces."
"The people of Aidone still fervently desire that the silver be returned to
Sicily," stated Dr. Bell.
Dr. Bell told me, "For over fifty years American archaeologists from
American universities have been directing the excavations at Morgantina. It
is totally inappropriate for an important American museum like the
Metropolitan to possess treasure that has been looted from Morgantina."
"The Met is still resisting the repatriation of these pieces," Dr. Bell
expressed with frustraion.
I contacted Harold Holzer, the Metropolitan Museum's vice president of
communications, and asked him what the museum's current position was on the
issue in light of the evidence presented by Dr. Bell and the
other experts. Mr. Holzer stated: "We don't want to comment on this at
present, because we are continuing to study the claims and reports. Our
research continues. We don't want to comment until we have a full
understanding of the issue."
When asked if the museum is in active negotiations with the Italian
Government, Mr. Holzer replied that there were on going discussions, not
According to legal experts who specialize in cultural property, the Italian
Government could sue the Met in New York in a Replevin Action. A Replevin
Action is one in which the plaintiff seeks the return of the
stolen property itself. Since the government can establish that the silver
actually came from Italy, and when, it is probable that they would win this
So, after twenty years of possessing the silver, the Met claims it still
doesn't have an understanding of the issue and continues to study and
research the claims and reports.
As for the fifteen objects that represent the finest Hellenistic silver from
Magna Grecia, there are only two being displayed at the Met. The other
thirteen objects are kept from the public's view, which, according to
Mr. Holzer, is due to the remodeling of the Roman galleries.
I must question however, why there is no mention of the silver on the
museum's web site, and why the bulletin cannot be located in the museum's
library. Do they think that if they keep the treasure low profile for
a few decades, that the Italians will forget who it really belongs to?