France reclaims 1,500-year-old looted treasure from ancient African nation

A French collection of priceless wooden terracotta and marble treasures looted from ancient Benin and believed to be tied to a 1,500-year-old bomb that exploded last July in the upper house of France’s parliament…

France reclaims 1,500-year-old looted treasure from ancient African nation

A French collection of priceless wooden terracotta and marble treasures looted from ancient Benin and believed to be tied to a 1,500-year-old bomb that exploded last July in the upper house of France’s parliament has begun a long journey home to Africa, the Benin government announced this week.

Some of the most precious objects are housed in two cabinet-like rooms at the pantheon museum in Paris’s center for Islamic art, it said in a statement. (Some of the rest are in a wider collection in Belgium.) Among the salvaged items are traces of plants that were believed to have been buried by Benin’s medieval rulers, including cat hair, tubers, and trinkets — and the remains of grave goods that could easily be mistaken for the cobblestones and bricks the vanished king of Benin, Salome, is thought to have used as cover for a campaign to seize ancient artifacts.

The artifacts, mostly small but significant, had been secretly housed inside military barracks in the southeast part of the country since the mid-1980s. Officials in Benin won the right to examine them in 2013, while officials in Paris negotiated the return of nearly 60 of the most important pieces in a deal finalized last year.

The priceless treasures made their way back to their homeland in a convoy of motorcycles and motorbikes arranged by the Royal Banquet Guard of Benin, Benin’s national police force, and a 4×4 truck supplied by the French state. An official announcement is scheduled to be made next week.

According to reports, French President Emmanuel Macron said at the official welcome ceremony at the government house in Akoto that the repatriation of the artefacts “consents the liberation of an entire continent.”

In some of the artefacts, which date from between 2,700 and 1650 AD, the terror agency CAPATAC, a branch of the Direction Generale de Securite Territoriale, explored minute detail. Among them: an almost indistinguishable bit of grass used to cover an altar; a row of petrified hemp that looks like candle wicks; and an inscription containing a text in Arabic, though it’s unclear if it’s personal or referring to an ancient royal bureaucracy.

In 2014, at least 150 pieces from the museum were stolen. A similar theft in a French museum in 1989 left almost entirely empty the treasure loot in its possession, but a reserve from the same collection was recovered several years later at the port of Mombasa in Kenya.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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