Planet Duke: Reclaiming History's Treasures


Carla Antonaccio may not seem like a bullwhip-brandishing, Indiana Jones-type adventurer, but the classical studies professor nonetheless wound up in the middle of an international detective story.

At the center of the tale were sixteen ancient cups, bowls,  and other objects that for many years were on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At the request of the Italian government, Antonaccio and a team of American archaeologists spent three summers in the late 1990s digging up a 2,300-year-old house on a hillside in Sicily to find clues as to whether the artifacts had been plundered from the site. The team found an inscription on one of the pieces that matched an ancient land deed in Sicily, prompting the Met to return the pieces, one of several high-profile acts of repatriation in recent years. 

Returned treasure: A gilded silver inset depicting a mythical creature was among the pieces brought back to Siciliy. [Courtesy Carla Antonaccio]


 Antonaccio has spent nearly every summer for the past two decades in Sicily, where she is piecing together the story of a small, but sophisticated ancient community inhabited by Greeks, Romans, and other cultures. “Sicily is one of those places that was continually overrun,” she says. “The Vikings ran through there. The Arabs held it for many years. So it’s a great laboratory to set up shop and see how people lived.”

When she is in Sicily this summer, she will work in the local museum, which now proudly displays the silver objects it has finally reclaimed. “They belong in their country of origin,” she says.


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