The missing piece of a rare decorative funeral artefact has helped Italy track down an art collector in Belgium with a collection of illegally excavated pieces worth an estimated €11 million ($13m).
About 800 Apulian artefacts and pieces of pottery have been found.
The archaeological pieces were excavated without authorisation in Puglia, Italy.
An investigation was launched in 2017 by the Italian Carabinieri's specialised unit for Protection of Cultural Heritage Goods, under the direction of public prosectors in Foggia.
It led to the authorities to identify a Belgian collector who possessed a Daunian tombstone with decorative features specific to the archaeological area of Salapia, close to Foggia.
It was shown at various exhibitions in Geneva and Paris in previous years.
The tombstone was missing some features, such as a decorative inscription that had been kept on display at the Archaeological Museum in Trinitapoli, close to Barletta in Puglia.
Authorities linked the inscription to the artefact displayed at the exhibitions and the Belgian collector.
Investigators found the main part of the tombstone at the collector's property.
With support the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Co-operation, or Eurojust, the items have now been returned to Italy.
"Eurojust ensured the judicial co-operation between the two countries for the collection to return to the Puglia region," it said.
"We established the judicial co-operation between Italy and Belgium and assisted in the execution of European Investigation Orders at the request of the Foggia prosecutors.
"This enabled the entire collection found in Antwerp to be returned to Italy, where it has now been presented, despite several attempts by the Belgian collector to repeal this transfer.
"Further investigations, as well as examinations by archaeological experts, into the collection will be completed in Italy."
During the investigation, a further vast collection of illegally excavated artefacts and pieces of pottery was found, dating to between 600 and 300BC.