US Returns 133 Stolen Gandharan Era Antiquities to Pakistan

By A Correspondent
Some of the antiquities repatriated to Pakistan were put on display at the ceremony, (Photo courtesy Pakistan Consulate, New York)

The United States has returned 133 antiquities, dating from the Gandharan period (3500-2600 BCE), that were stolen from Pakistan. The market value of the returned antiquities is estimated to be 13 million dollars. The Gandharan civilization, which flourished in the regions of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan from the 1st century BCE to the 5th century CE, produced a wealth of artistic and cultural artifacts that are highly valued by collectors and museums worldwide

The antiquities repatriation took place at a special ceremony that was held at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on May 21. It was the fifth such transfer to Pakistan from where these precious artifacts were stolen.

Pakistan’s Consulate General Aamer Atozai addressing the repatriation ceremony. (Photo courtesy Consulate General of Pakistan)

During the event, an agreement was signed by Aamer Ahmed Atozai, Consul General of Pakistan in New York, and Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Assistant Special Agent in Charge Christopher Lau from Homeland Security Investigations also attended.

Some of the recovered antiquities were displayed at the ceremony. These included significant pieces such as a Gandharan statue depicting a Maitreya, Mehrgarh Dolls, an ancient gold coin, and some of the earliest human-crafted figurines.

A statement issued by Pakistan’s Consulate in New York said these artifacts were recovered through extensive investigations into an international trafficking network that smuggled looted antiquities into markets in the USA, Europe, and Asia.

Pakistan’s Consul General Aamer Atozai expressed heartfelt gratitude to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security for their efforts in recovering Pakistan’s stolen cultural treasures. He highlighted that the return of these artifacts not only restored a part of Pakistan’s cultural heritage but also strengthened the cooperation between the two nations in combating cultural property crimes.

He acknowledged the efforts of everyone involved in the recovery and return of the cultural treasures.

(Photo courtesy, Consulate General of Pakistan)

The smuggling of Gandharan antiquities from Pakistan to the United States is a significant issue that underscores the challenges of protecting cultural heritage in the face of international art trafficking.

The smuggling of these artifacts is facilitated by well-organized international trafficking networks. These networks often involve looters, middlemen, and corrupt officials who work together to illegally excavate, transport, and sell these artifacts. The artifacts are typically smuggled out of Pakistan through porous borders and hidden within shipments of legal goods. Once in transit, they are often given false provenance to obscure their illicit origins before being sold to unsuspecting buyers in international markets.

Efforts to combat the smuggling of Gandharan artifacts involve cooperation between Pakistani authorities and international agencies. Key players include Interpol, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and various cultural heritage organizations. These agencies work together to track stolen artifacts, investigate trafficking networks, and repatriate recovered items to their countries of origin

an agreement was signed by Aamer Ahmed Atozai, Consul General of Pakistan in New York, and Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. (Photo courtesy, Consulate General of Pakistan)

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