0424 GMT September 22, 2019
The sculptures, which once adorned the walls of fourth-century Buddhist monasteries, were found stuffed into “two badly made wooden crates” at Heathrow in 2002 on a flight from Peshawar, Pakistan.
From the ancient kingdom of Gandhara in modern Pakistan and Afghanistan, the artifacts include a stone torso of a Buddhist holy man, nine clay heads, and images of monks and worshippers. They will go on show in London before their return to the National Museum of Afghanistan, standard.co.uk wrote.
The sculptures are part of a steady flow of stolen antiquities being returned to their countries of origin from the UK, including 154 clay writing tablets which will be sent to the Iraq Museum. St. John Simpson, senior curator in the British Museum’s Middle East department, said it was impossible to put a value on the objects.
He said the museum was regularly tackling cases of illicit antiquities, with suspected stolen goods turning up at locations including Stansted and Heathrow. “The museum acts as the official administrator on stolen cultural heritage for all aspects of the British government,” Simpson added.
Identifying objects, arranging for their return, and the pursuit of often complicated legal cases means antiquities can be left in limbo for many years. Simpson said most of the objects seized in the UK were not bound for this country but were in transit, having been sold on the black market.
Another significant part of the trade, valued at millions of pounds by an Interpol report last year, is a rise in the sale of fakes, which are more easily passed off when sold online as they cannot be examined properly.
The museum’s role in battling the black market trade is examined in its annual review published today which reveals it has identified almost 700 artifacts stolen from Egypt and Sudan.