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89 Moche Archaeological Objects – Peru v. Johnson
After the discovery of the Moche site of Sipán (Peru) in the mid-eighties, many archaeological objects were looted and smuggled out of the country. In 1987, a smuggler who had been involved in the exportation of these objects to the United States contacted United States Customs agents and led to the eventual seizure of 89 Moche artifacts from Benjamin Johnson, a private collector. The government of Peru sued to retrieve the artifacts from Johnson. Peru’s claim was unsuccessful and the 89 archaeological objects remained in Johnson’s possession.
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Ancient Coins – Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. United States
In an attempt to challenge import regulations in force in the United States (US), the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) imported into the US 23 ancient coins, which were seized by customs officials. The case was litigated from 2007 to 2019, with courts consistently deciding in favour of the US Government and the import restrictions remaining in place.
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Etruscan Black-Figured Kalpis – Italy and Toledo Museum of Art
After an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations, the Toledo Museum of Art returned in 2013 an Etruscan black-figure kalpis to Italy. The kalpis was found to be smuggled out of Italy after an illegal excavation prior to 1981, then sold to the Toledo Museum of Art in 1982 by Gianfranco and Ursula Becchina, who had earlier purchased it from the art smuggler Giacomo Medici.
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G’psgolox Totem Pole – Haisla and Sweden and the Stockholm Museum of Ethnography
In 1927, a totem pole belonging to the Haisla tribe in Canada was stolen and brought to the Stockholm Museum of Ethnography. In 1991, the tribe discovered the location of their totem pole, known as the G’psgolox totem pole, and requested that it be returned. After fifteen years of negotiations, the G’psgolox totem pole was formally returned to the tribe in 2006.
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14 Archaeological Objects – Italy and Cleveland Museum of Art
On 19 November 2008, the Italian Ministry for Cultural Assets and Activities and the Cleveland Museum of Art signed an agreement concerning 14 archaeological objects in the museum’s collection. This agreement provides for the return to Italy of the artworks in exchange for loans of “a similar number of works of equal aesthetic and historical significance”.
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Hopi Masks – Hopi Tribe v. Néret-Minet and Estimations & Ventes aux Enchères
Between 2013 and 2014, dozens of Hopi’s sacred objects were sold at auctions in Paris despite strong protests and legal actions launched by the Hopi tribe. These actions were unsuccessful because French judicial authorities denied legal standing to the Hopis and considered that the sales did not violate French law.
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Lebanese Archives – Lebanon and University of Geneva
In 2010, the University of Geneva sent to Lebanon the archives concerning the excavations conducted at Byblos, an archaeological site located in the northern part of Beirut, by the French archaeologist Maurice Dunand. The University had acquired the archives from Dunand in 1984.
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Parrot Lady Sculpture – Canada and India
“Parrot Lady” is a 800 year old sandstone sculpture from a Khajuraho temple in India. It was returned by Canada to India in 2015 in accordance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
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Bélier Malien – France, Jacques Chirac et Mali
En novembre 1996, le Président de la République Française Jacques Chirac reçoit en cadeau un quadrupède en terre cuite aux formes massives et stylisées. L’objet, qui provenait d’un site pillé au Mali, sera restitué sous forme de don après négociations en janvier 1998.
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Durga Idol – India and Germany
In the 1990s, a 10th century idol representing the Indian Goddess Durga was reported as stolen from a temple in Tengpora, Pulwana in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The idol was found at the Linden Museum in Stuttgart in 2012. After presenting the evidence of its provenance, the idol was returned to India on “ethical grounds”.
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