Swiss authorities have repatriated a significant archaeological artifact, a 2,000-year-old marble head of a young woman from the Hellenistic period, discovered a decade ago in a Geneva warehouse to Libya.
Described as an “archaeological vestige of great value,” the 19-centimeter-high sculpture is considered an “exceptional testimony to Hellenistic expansion in North Africa.”
Believed to originate from the ancient city of Cyrene in present-day Libya, the artifact now bridges the connection between Switzerland and Libya, according to a press release from the Federal Office of Culture.
The sculpture, unearthed in 2013 during a customs warehouse inspection in Geneva, was recently returned to Bern by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture. Despite a three-year investigation by the Geneva Public Prosecutor’s Office to determine if the artifact resulted from “illicit excavations,” the exact origin and route to Switzerland remain unknown.
The sculpture was officially handed over to Libyan authorities at the embassy in Switzerland. The marble head returned to Libya is noted for its distinctive reddish patina, a feature that, according to the Federal Office of Culture, offers insights into its origin. The presence of “terra rossa and marble of such quality” in the Cyrenaica region is highlighted, making it a unique area in the Mediterranean basin.
“Libya, in particular its UNESCO World Heritage sites like Cyrene, are strongly threatened by looting and destruction,” explained the press release, which recalls that in 2015, the International Council of Museums published a list of red flags of Libyan antiquities in danger to fight against the destruction and illegal trade of cultural property,” as reported by Africa News.
Both Switzerland and Libya, despite the latter’s internal chaos since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, are signatories to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, emphasizing their commitment to preventing the import, illicit export, and transfer of ownership of cultural property.