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Back to Greece Volume 53 Number 6, November/December 2000
by Mark Rose

[image] Most of the vases recovered in Australia and returned to Athens were lekythoi (oil vessels) but other shapes included a pelike (inscribed on its neck). (Ministry of Culture, Hellenic Republic of Greece)

Thirty-one ancient vases and two Byzantine icons worth an estimated $2.2 million have been returned to Greece from Australia. The vases, most of which are lekythoi (vessels used for oil) from the fifth century B.C., had been excavated during the construction of Athens' new subway and were awaiting conservation. Before being restored, however, they were stolen on the night of January 12, 1994, according to Secretary General Lina Mendoni of Greece's Ministry of Culture.

[image]The two icons recovered depicted Jesus with a male figure and Mary with the infant Jesus. (Ministry of Culture, Hellenic Republic of Greece)

Australian Federal Police found the vases, restored apparently for sale, when they raided two Melbourne residences owned by Peter Pylarinos in a drug-trafficking investigation in 1995. Also recovered were two icons bearing the official Hellenic Republic-Ministry of Culture stamp on their reverse side, one of them further identified as belonging to Athens' Byzantine Museum. Pylarinos, jailed for drug-related offenses, has not divulged to authorities how the artifacts and icons came into his possession.

At the official hand-over ceremony this past July, Secretary General Mendoni stated, "The Australian Federal Police's success adds to those of Interpol, the FBI, and the Greek police force, who have all, in the past few years, recovered significantly important archaeological finds...not only in Greece but throughout the world." Mendoni told Archaeology that by year's end it is hoped that artifacts stolen from the Corinth Museum in 1990 will also be returned. All but three of the 270 sculptures and vases taken in that heist were recovered in Miami following investigations by Greek authorities and the FBI (see "Corinth Loot Found Under Fresh Fish," November/December 1999).

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America