Nearly 800 illegally exported antiquities returned to Italy

Italian police say they have brought back to Italy nearly 800 illegally exported ancient artifacts from Belgium, where they were held by a private collector

The Carabinieri paramilitary police's specialized art squad said the probe began in 2017 after Italian experts noticed in a catalog for a show in a Geneva museum about the ancient peoples of Italy a photo of a stele, or tall commemorative slab, from pre-Roman times in southeastern Italy.

They ascertained that a fragment of the same slab was held in a museum in the region of Puglia, and therefore the entire piece had been excavated there.

Italian law forbids export of cultural artifacts found in Italian territory.

The probe eventually led to the discovery of 781 other artifacts, including amphorae and other vases, steles and statuettes. According to experts, the pieces date to between the 6th and 3rd centuries B.C. Many were plundered from ancient tombs in Puglia, the Carabinieri said.

The police say they found the stele that originally caught the experts' eye in the home of a collector in a town near Antwerp. Carabinieri said numerous legal appeals by the collector to keep the artifacts were ultimately rebuffed by Belgian judicial authorities.