Sculptures of nine buddha heads, and a torso, are being returned to Afghanistan from Britain.
Experts believe that nine clay heads and a torso carved from schist shipped to London in 2002 were made in Buddhist monasteries in Afghanistan between 4 and 6 AD. The heads may have been broken off from torsos during the Taliban regime.
They turned up in Britain in September 2002 at Heathrow Airport in two wooden crates sent from Peshawar in Pakistan. Customs officers suspected that the ceramic artifacts might contain drugs. No drugs were found, but the items were treated as stolen artifacts by the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit.
Employees at the business in London to which the pieces were addressed had no idea about the nature of the items, and the case was closed.
Afghanistan later claimed these sculptures but it wasn’t possible to return the items due to conflict in the country, according to the Met Police. But now the items will be returned to the National Museum of Afghanistan after being displayed for a short time at the British Museum.
Detective Constable Sophie Hayes from the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit said: “This has been a very long and complex case but I am delighted that after 17 years, these ancient and precious items are finally being returned to Afghanistan. The handover takes place during the Art and Antiques Unit’s 50th year and it is fitting that, whilst celebrating our anniversary, we were also able to attend the event at the British Museum to celebrate Afghanistan’s cultural heritage returning to its rightful home.”