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Italy shows off seized artifacts

February 20, 2008|From Reuters

ROME -- An ancient mosaic of a dark-haired boy and a fresco from Pompeii were among more than 400 looted archaeological treasures Italian police put on show Tuesday that had been recovered during a three-year hunt across Europe.

The artifacts, including delicate Etruscan goblets and large Greek vases, were illegally dug up and spirited out of Italy decades ago, many of them assumed to be lost forever.

Some of the most precious antiquities, including the fragmented fresco, were found at an elegant Paris mansion owned by a French publishing magnate, whose name was not disclosed. The Italian authorities said they had pressed charges against 31 people, including the publisher.

The other artifacts, most of them illegally excavated in the provinces of Tuscany and Lazio, were traced to Milan, Geneva and Brussels.

"These artifacts are of inestimable value," said Vito Augelli of Italy's Guardia di Finanza financial police force, which coordinated the investigation and showed reporters the antiquities -- soon to go on display in museums.

Investigators identified the colorful Pompeiian fresco as perhaps the most prized object. The fragments show gardens, fountains and parts of a villa that was once home to Poppea Sabina, the wife of Emperor Nero. Other significant finds included a virtually intact mosaic showing a young boy with cropped black hair and large black eyes, and a rare kalpis -- a Greek vase used for holding oil or water -- featuring delicate figures.

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