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10 December 2014
Auction of Sardinian mother goddess put on hold

A campaign in Sardinia (Italy) to reclaim a 4,500-year-old pagan idol from a US auction house is gathering pace ahead of its scheduled sale, as Italy steps up the fight against the theft of its precious cultural patrimony. Christie's in New York had listed the marble religious artefact Dea Madre, or Mother Goddess, dating from about 2500 BCE, for sale on 11 December. Auctioneers hoped to sell the Bronze Age statuette for as much as $1.2m. But campaigners claimed an initial  after hearing that the sale had been put on hold.
     Mauro Pili, a Sardinian politician leading the drive to stop what he calls the 'robbery of the heritage and civilisation of Sardinia', said: "The battle against archaeological theft has reached a decisive point." Paolo Montorsi, a commander with the national TPC carabinieri unit, which protects Italy's cultural heritage, said that he was investigating "who the current owner of the artefact is and how it came into their possession. It is up to them to prove, with documentation, that they have the right to possess it". Francesca Barracciu, the Under-Secretary for Culture, said the government in Rome was determined to track down and reclaim all stolen artworks under a 1993 international law which demands the return of goods removed illegally from a country.
     Mr Pili, an MP with the small Unitos party, is also calling for action in tracing six bronze artefacts linked to the island's Nuragic civilisation, which appear to have been stolen from Sardinia and sold on a New York-based website. The missing bronzes were probably already part of private collections in England, France and Switzerland, having being illegally removed from Italy more than 30 years ago. So there is "no possibility of discerning when or from where they were stolen", according to Ms Barracciu.
     Tales of missing or stolen objects are legion in Italy. And the TPC heritage police manage the world's largest database of stolen art, holding details of 5.7 millionworks.

Edited from The Independent (2 December 2014)

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