US returns looted antiquity to Palestinian Authority for first time ever

The content originally appeared on: CNN

For the first time ever, the United States has returned a looted antiquity to the Palestinian Authority — an Iron Age ivory “cosmetic spoon” that is almost 3,000 years old.

US and Palestinian officials attended a ceremony on Thursday marking the historic repatriation at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Bethlehem, according to statements released by the US Office of Palestinian Affairs and the official Palestinian News & Information Agency (WAFA).

US and Palestinian officials met in Bethlehem Thursday for the historic repatriation. Credit: Ministry of Tourism

The cosmetic spoon dates back to approximately 800-700 BCE, and was used to ladle incense onto fires as offerings to the gods or the dead, a statement from the Manhattan District Attorney’s (DA) office added.

Palestinian Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Rula Maayah, who attended the ceremony, said in a statement that the artifact “acquires its real scientific and archaeological value in its authentic location.”

“Based on information from the US side, the investigations they conducted showed that the artifact was stolen from Khirbet al-Koum area in Hebron,” she added.

The chief of the US Office of Palestinian Affairs, George Noll, who was also present at the ceremony, said the repatriation is “a historic moment between the American and Palestinian people and a demonstration of our belief in the power of cultural exchanges in building mutual understanding, respect and partnership.”

The ivory cosmetic spoon was seized following a multinational criminal investigation by the Manhattan DA office’s into US billionaire Michael Steinhardt.

Steinhardt surrendered 180 stolen relics worth an estimated $70 million and agreed to an “unprecedented” lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities in December 2021, CNN reported at the time.

Investigators found that Steinhardt, one of the world’s largest ancient art collectors, was in possession of looted artifacts smuggled out of 11 countries by 12 criminal networks, according to a statement from the DA’s office.

Steinhardt’s lawyers, Andrew J. Levander and Theodore V. Wells Jr, said in a statement to CNN at the time that their client was pleased the DA’s investigation had concluded without any charges “and that items wrongfully taken by others will be returned to their native countries.”

Since then, the Manhattan DA has returned several of these looted artifacts, including a $1.2 million antiquity to Libya and two artifacts to Iraq in January 2022; 39 antiquities valued at $5 million to Israel in March 2022; and 58 antiquities to Italy, including 21 seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in September 2022.

CNN’s Jack Guy contributed reporting.