The United States returned an ancient Roman wine pitcher and five gold artifacts to Afghanistan on Monday in the fourth official repatriation of stolen cultural treasures in eight years.
Kabul's ambassador to Washington, Eklil Hakimi, accepted the objects from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) during a ceremony at the Afghan embassy.
U.S. customs officers seized the items in March 2011 at Newark airport in New Jersey, after special agents from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) discovered they were destined for a New York business suspected of dealing in looted cultural property. An investigation is ongoing in New York, London and Dubai.
The wine pitcher is a 12.75-inch Roman oinochoe from the 5th to 8th century A.D. The word oinochoe derives from the Greek words oino (wine) and choe (a liquid offering). The jugs are characterized by their curved handles and rounded lip. Popular throughout the Greek and Roman worlds, they were used to serve wine at the dinner table.
The other objects returned to Afghanistan in the latest handover were three 5th-century B.C. gold-foil appliqués depicting antelopes, and two 17th-century antique coiled ornaments.
"These items are national treasures that form the country's identity and distinguish Afghanistan from the rest of the world," declared Hakimi. "We are grateful to the U.S. government for returning these extraordinary symbols of our past civilizations to their rightful owner today."
HSI assistant director John Connolly said: "I’m delighted that HSI has been instrumental in returning to the Afghan people a long lost piece of their history that should have never been stolen."
Since 2005, the U.S. has returned a number of objects to Afghanistan, ranging from 2nd century B.C. archaeological artifacts to a late 19th century rifle ammunition loader that vanished from Kabul's National Museum after the Soviet pullout in 1988–89.