Man repatriates 19 antiquities after reading Guardian article


An American man has returned 19 antiquities to the four countries they came from after reading reports in the Guardian about the repatriation of looted antiquities.

John Gomperts, who lives in Washington, realised that the ancient pieces worth up to £80,000 - including two seventh- and eighth-century BC Cypriot vases - that he had inherited from his grandmother could have come from illicit excavations because they have no collecting history.

He wanted to do the right thing legally and ethically by returning the items to Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Pakistan respectively. After an agreement with his two siblings, he has returned them.

He said: "It seemed like the right thing to do ... I read stories on repatriation and I thought: we have these pieces that are 2,500 years old from other countries; we should explore whether we can give them back."

But with no idea how to repatriate antiquities, he was initially worried that he could be in trouble with the authorities for having potentially looted the artefacts in his possession.

In those Guardian reports, he noticed that Prof Christos Tsirogiannis, a former senior field archaeologist at the University of Cambridge and a specialist in antiquities and trafficking networks, had been quoted, and so he reached out to him for advice.

Based in Cambridge, Tsirogiannis is the head of illicit antiquities trafficking research at the Ionian University in Corfu, Greece. Over 15 years, he has identified more than 1,600 looted artefacts within auction houses, commercial galleries, private collections and museums, alerting police authorities and governments and playing a significant role in repatriating antiquities.

Tsirogiannis said Gomperts was setting an extraordinary example. "He reached out to me, which is a first for an owner of unprovenanced antiquities, asking for advice to do the right thing," he said. "It's a wonderful case of a person who did so because he had read the Guardian articles. It shows how such publications are raising awareness and bringing actual results. He sent me photos of the antiquities, which were clearly authentic."

He identified each antiquity, indicating the country to which it should be returned. "Twelve objects belong to Greece, four to Italy, one to Pakistan, and two to Cyprus. I advised him to give them back," he said.

A couple of the objects came with receipts, but Tsirogiannis realised their links to known Greek dealers of illicit antiquities in the 1950s and 1960s. "So this alerted me even more for him to repatriate them immediately," he said.

The countries showed their appreciation, with notes of thanks to Gomperts and Tsirogiannis.