This post comes from Amanda Wall, a first-year in the Museum Education program.
The Metropolitan Museum has handed over a Late Phoenician marble “Bull’s Head” to Manhattan Court Prosecutors after the owners dropped their federal lawsuit fighting the repatriation when presented definite proof of the artifacts origins from the Directorate General of Antiquities. Lynda and William Beierwaltes, Colorado art collectors, purchased the artifact in good faith for $1 million in 1996 from a London based dealer. In 2010 the Beierwaltes sold the marble “Bull’s Head” to Michael H. Steinhardt in 2010 who loaned the marble statue to the Met this past year. Curators at The Met raised concerns of the provenance of the object and contacted Lebanese authorities in July. Upon learning of the provenance dispute of the object, Steinhardt relinquished ownership of the object back to the Beierwaltes. The 2,300 year old statue will be returning to Lebanon for display at the National Museum of Beirut.
This case has become further complicated by the discovery of a second stolen Lebanese artifact found to have been purchased by the Beierwaltes based on a 1998 profile of the couple in Home & Country. The second antiquity “an archaic marble torso of a calf bearer,” was was purchased in 1996 for $4.5 through the same dealer, and similarly was later sold to Steinhardt in 2015. A warrant for its seizure was issued on October 10th and will be repatriated for display at the National Museum of Beirut following the owner’s relinquishment of claim.
Both antiquities were stolen from storage warehouses in Byblos during the Lebanese Civil War, along with 600 more artifacts, all ending up on the black market. The two objects were unearthed in 1967 at the excavations of the Temple of Eshmun, one of the best preserved Phoenician sites in Lebanon. The excavations at the site, representing the end of the Phoenician Period around 450 B.C., were held from 1963 to the start of the Lebanese civil war in 1975 and were led by French archaeologist Maurice Dunand. The statues are especially valuable as they are very characteristic of the time period and are made from marble, a resource not found in Lebanon and therefore imported to build the Temple of Eshmun.
The successful repatriation of these artifacts were due to careful recording of the excavations that provided photographic evidence of their provenance. Previously, eight other antiquities from the Temple of Eshmun have been successfully repatriated after being discovered in Switzerland by archaeologist Rolf Stucky. The lawsuit for these two objects highlights the importance of careful documentation of archaeological excavations. The looting of the Temple of Eshmun was the largest documented looting in the Lebanese civil war. However, countless more artifacts were looted during the war from illegal excavations with no documentation to prove provenance.
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