An American man returned 19 artifacts to four countries from which they came. John Gomperts had inherited the old pieces – worth about €90,000 – from his German-Dutch grandmother, but they may have been stolen.
John Gomperts, who lives in Washington, realized after reading an article in a British newspaper Watchman That ancient artifacts – including two Cypriot vases from the 7th and 8th centuries – could have come from illegal excavations, as there was no known history of the collection.
Gomperts believed that it was legal and ethical to return the old goods to Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Pakistan. “I thought it was the right thing to do. I read stories about coming home and thought: We have 2,500-year-old pieces from other countries; we have to investigate if we can get them back,” the man told the newspaper.
His big question was: How do you return such antiquities without the authorities thinking that he stole them himself? He decided to contact a former field archaeologist from Cambridge University, who was quoted by the newspaper articles. Christos Tsirogiannis is now the Head of Investigation into the Illicit Antiquities Trade at the Ionian University of Corfu, Greece. In the span of fifteen years, he has identified more than 1,600 artifacts looted from auction houses, private collections, and museums and returned them to their rightful owners. For example, he got into a fight with the famous auction house Sotheby’s on an ancient Greek bronze horse, which was returned to the hands of Greece after legal proceedings.
Problems with the authorities
Tsirogiannis identified the antiquities which the Gomperts had shown him and indicated the country to which they should be returned. Twelve pieces belong to Greece, four to Italy, one to Pakistan and two to Cyprus. I advised him to give it back,” said the archaeologist Watchman. I told him: If you follow my advice, you will have no problems and you will also become a role model for others. You pack them in a box for each country and go to their embassies. Please use my name – this will protect you. The most honest method is the direct method. “
Items inherited from his grandmother Gomperts include two fourth-century ceramic tablets decorated with acrobatics by Southern Italian painters, a fourth-century vase used in ancient Greek wedding ceremonies, and a carved stone fragment depicting followers of Buddha, carved in the second or third century. .
Gompert’s German-Dutch grandmother Gisela Schneider Hermann died in 1992 at the age of 98. She was active in many excavations, particularly in Italy and Greece in the 1950s and 1960s, and published scientific articles. “I have no idea how she actually got these things. She was a good, right character. But there were other standards back then. These things were her whole obsession and existence.”
Some of the artifacts came with receipts, but Tsirogiannis knew that in the 1950s and 1960s, archaeologists also suspected links to Greek merchants of illegal antiquities. So Gomperts was sure he wanted things back. I knocked on the embassy doors and said: I have a delivery. I said, ‘I want these things back.’
The countries expressed their appreciation with thanks to Gomberts and Tserogiannis.
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