UK's Boris Johnson and Libya’s interim prime minister welcome return of looted Greek statue

Marble statue is well preserved and believed to be of Greek goddess Persephone

epa09298948 Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and Libya's interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah (L) during their bilateral meeting at number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, 24 June 2021. International powers stressed the need for foreign fighters and mercenaries to be gradually withdrawn from Libya to avoid a lopsided power balance, tackling head on a major sticking point in the conflict that has ravaged the OPEC member.  EPA/CHRIS J. RATCLIFFE / POOL

With the aid of the British Museum, a 2,000-year-old funerary statue representing the Greek goddess Persephone has been returned to Libya.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Libya's interim leader Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in London on Thursday welcomed the return of the statue to Libya.

"Both leaders also celebrated the return of an ancient Greek statue of the goddess Persephone, which had been looted from Libya and was recovered with the support of the UK government," they said in a statement.

Thought to have been stolen from the ancient city of Cyrene in 2011 during the Libyan civil war, the statue was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013.

British Museum experts were called in to identify the piece and in 2015 testified in court on the item’s provenance. The judge in the case ruled that the object belonged to Libya.

The marble statue is remarkably well preserved and dates to the second century BC.

The statue is wearing snake wristlets, signifiers of the afterlife and rebirth, and is holding a doll figurine that may represent a souvenir taken into the afterlife.

The sculpture would have been made to stand in a niche above “a very high-status tomb", says Peter Higgs, a curator at the British Museum, who was among those consulted on the work’s provenance.

Cyrene is a registered Unesco World Heritage Site and former ancient Greek city.

Artefacts buried throughout this archaeological site have been looted.

The Persephone sculpture is exceedingly rare for a Cyrenaican statue because it has an intact nose and overall condition.

Many similarly dated statues exist now as fragments. Typically, all that remains is the head.

The quality of the Persephone statue’s surface most probably indicates that it was only recently excavated.

Mr Higgs said the work was “stunning”.

“It is a beautiful, three-quarter-length statue, very well preserved with just a few fingers missing," he said.

"It is technically brilliant in the way it has been carved, with very sharp details, and the face is very well preserved.”

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