Did Libya witness biggest theft in archaeological history?

October 31st, 2011 - 12:10 am ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 30 (IANS) A gang of looters in Libya have targetted the invaluable treasure of gold and silver coins that are believed to date to the era of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C).

The thieves carried off the pieces, known as The Treasure of Benghazi, having drilled through a concrete ceiling at the National Commercial Bank of Benghazi, the Daily Mail reported.

Besides the coins, several artefacts, including monuments and figurines of bronze, glass and ivory, as well as jewellery, bracelets and medallions, are also believed to have been seized by thieves.

Most of the Benghazi treasures was on Libyan soil following a mass recovery of the collection between 1917 and 1922 from the temple of Artemis in Cyrene - an ancient Roman city, now Libyan territory.

During World War II, much of the treasure was on display at the Museum of Italian Africa in Rome. But it was returned to Libyan soil in 1961 and had been kept at the bank.

According to an expert, the raid could be termed as “one of the greatest thefts in archaeological history”.

While the break-in was initially believed to have been part of the uprising against the Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi, Hafed Walada, a Libyan archaeologist working at King’s College London told The Sunday Times it might have been “insiders’ job”.

“It appears to have been carried out by people who knew what they were looking for.”

The treasure was priceless given its historical value, said Italian archaeologist Serenella Ensoli, from the Second University of Naples.

“The collection is not well studied and is a huge loss for Libyan heritage,” said Ensoli.

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