Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cache of Pre-Columbian artifacts returned to Peru

More than 400 pre-Columbian artifacts believed to have been taken from ancient graves in Peru were given back to that country here today in what was described by officials as the largest such recovery since the 1970s, when Peru and the United States agreed to import restrictions on the cultural artifacts.

The cache of artifacts, briefly on display here, was described by experts as "priceless."

There was a stylish clay pot, inscribed with a monkey-like figure. A feathered royal poncho. A child's woven tunic. A snuff holder carved from bone. The pieces had been buried in Peruvian graves 1,000 years ago or more, experts said, with some items as old as 3,500 years.

Ugo Bagnato, an elderly Italian man, was discovered keeping the items at a suburban warehouse here in September 2005. He sold two pieces to an undercover agent, one a clay pot approximately 3,500 years old and the other a statue with a gold ringed nose that is about 1,800 years old. The price for each was $2,000, agents said.

But according to his attorney, Bagnato is an archaeologist without any criminal record and had legitimately acquired the collection from a Venezuelan acquaintance who, in turn, had long ago acquired them through inheritance.