A handover ceremony marking the return of two important ancient Greek artifacts by the U.S. J. Paul Getty Museum to Greece was staged at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens Thursday.
The artifacts are a 4th century B.C. gold funerary wreath from the then northern Greek province of Macedonia and an archaic-era statue of a "kore" (young woman) made of Parian marble. They are the last of four artifacts returned to Greece by the museum under an agreement announced a few months ago.
Apart from the golden wreath and the kore, the Los Angeles-based Getty Museum had in August 2006 returned a 4th-century B.C. black limestone stele, grave marker, and a 6th-century B.C. marble votive relief from Thasos that also went on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
The agreement with the Getty Museum, where the antiquities were housed, was reached after the Greek government contested the legality of their export from the country.
Greek Culture Minister George Voulgarakis described the two ancient artifacts retrieved from the museum as "masterpieces of Greek art."
The minister also emphasized that all four items returned by the Getty were given back without any form of exchange and without intervention by a court.
"The era when stolen objects of great value could be bought on the 'grey' market is gone, never to return," Voulgarakis said.
He said the agreement had set a strong precedent allowing Greece to claim the things that rightfully belonged to the country, provided there was proof that it had been illegally obtained and exported from the country.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis Thursday praised the Culture Ministry's effort for the return of all antiquities illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country.
"Defending our cultural heritage using all legal means is a self-evident obligation," he said. "Claiming from foreign museums and collectors every Greek ancient artifact for which we have evidence that it was the product of antiquities-smuggling, illegal excavation or illegal trade is a matter of urgent priority."
The prime minister also said that a bill aimed at curbing the illegal trade and smuggling of antiquities in Greece would be tabled in parliament by the Culture Ministry in the near future.