Italian authorities have recovered nearly 800 archeological finds from a Belgian collector worth a combined €11 million (around $13 million). The oldest pieces in the collection date as far back as the sixth century B.C.E.
The trove of artifacts includes painted vases, amphorae, black glazed ceramics, and several terra-cotta figurines. They were illegally excavated in Puglia, a region in southern Italy, according to Carabinieri’s police division in charge of protecting cultural heritage.
Among the works recovered is a funeral tablet made of limestone that is known as a Daunian stele. The Daunians were an Iapygian tribe that inhabited what is now Puglia from the late 8th century B.C.E. to the 6th century B.C.E.
The team behind the recovery had been plotting the operation since 2017, when a state archaeology lab in Puglia found the Daunian funerary stele listed in a catalogue for a show in Geneva. The work was credited as belonging to a “wealthy Belgian collector,” the Agence France-Presse reports.
Officials from the lab noticed that the tablet illustrated in the catalogue was missing a large piece from its center, and that a fragment of Daunian stele within the collection the Archaeological Museum of Trinitapoli in southern Italy depicting a shield and warrior on horseback appeared to complete the work.
The finding gave the police reason to search the collector’s home in Antwerp, leading to the incredible discovery. “During the course of the search, a veritable ‘archaeological treasure’ was recovered, consisting of hundreds of Apulian figurative ceramic finds and other Daunian stelae, all illegally exported from Italy, which were then seized in Belgium,” the Carabinieri said in a statement.
Eurojust, the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation, coordinated the joint operation between Italian and Belgian authorities, who have since repatriated the entire collection to Italy. A series of legal appeals filed by the collector were dismissed.