Priceless antique bust found in thrift shop to return to Germany

14 May

The Bavarian Palace Administration, the largest public authority responsible for museums in Germany, told DW in an email that they are overjoyed "at the rediscovery of a piece of Bavarian history that was thought to have been lost."


In August 2018, a woman bought a marble bust that weighs about 25 kilograms (55 pounds) in a thrift store in Austin, Texas. She paid just under $35, she recently told the New York Times. She resells interesting objects, so she researched this one, too, and sent photos to various auction houses.

Sotheby's answered with surprising information. According to the auction house, the bust dates back to Roman antiquity and is about 2,000 years old. An employee found photos in a digital database showing it in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, in the 1930s. 

From a legal point of view, the bust is still the property of Germany. During World War II, it was stored with other artifacts as the Pompejanum, the replica of a Roman villa in the city of Aschaffenburg where the bust was exhibited, was heavily damaged by bombs. Presumably, US soldiers stationed in Germany later brought the bust to America.

Displayed in Aschaffenburg as early as 1850

Modeled after Sextus Pompeius, a military leader and son of an ally of Julius Caesar, the bust is on show for a year at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) before it returns to Germany's Pompejanum, where it was first displayed in 1850. King Ludwig I had the replica of a house in Pompeii built from 1840 to 1848 to study ancient culture. After the Second World War, the museum was restored in the 1960s.


Author Torsten Landsberg


Recent archaeological finds in Germany


A 'forged' sky

The Nebra sky disc was seen as a sensational archaeological find, believed to feature the world's oldest known depiction of a cosmic phenomenon. It was found by treasure-hunters with a metal detector in Saxony-Anhalt in 1999. First estimated to be 3,600 years old, German researchers are now questioning that dating.


The most ancient depiction of a human being

The Venus of Hohle Fels was discovered in 2008 in a cave in southwestern Germany. The nearly six-centimeter ivory figurine is believed to have been worn as an amulet. It is dated to between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago, making it the oldest known depiction of a human being in prehistoric art.


A mighty hat

Three of the world's four known Golden Hats from the Bronze Age (1000 BC) were shown at a 2019 exhibition at Berlin's Gropius Bau museum. They served as a symbol for deities and priests in a sun cult that was practiced in Central Europe during that period. Made of thin gold leaf, the hats are presumed to have covered a similarly-shaped headdress made of organic material.


The treasures of Cologne's wharf area

Archaeologists uncovered thousands of finds — including these oil lamps from the first century A.D. — in the mud on the site of the former Roman port in Cologne. At the time, the newly established Roman settlement was an important trade center, where one could easily find goods from North Africa, Pompeii or Aquitaine. A 1,900-year-old Roman boat was also discovered in Cologne in 2007.


The secrets of a Celtic princess

At the end of 2010, a complete early Celtic tomb of a noblewoman was retrieved from the earth near the southern German town of Herbertingen. It contained bronze and gold jewelry that were imported from afar. The find provided further evidence that trade with the rest of Europe was already strong by the sixth century BC.


Roman luxury in the grave

A particular Roman tomb was discovered in the town of Haltern, in North Rhine-Westphalia. It contained, along with the remains of a man, an intricate bone-carved kline, which is a bed for the dead. The kline was transported from Italy to Germany to guarantee Roman luxury even after death. The 1,900-year-old deathbed was reconstructed from thousands of fragments.


The 'Swiss knife' of the Stone Age

The hand axe, the longest-used tool in human history, was already in circulation around two million years ago in Africa. The hand axes found in Eurasia were much younger however, dated back to 600,000 years ago. The all-round tool was likely to have different functions such as chopping, cutting, scraping, hitting and even throwing. This piece of flint stone is at most 35,000 years old.


900 grams of hacksilver

In 2005, a hiker in Upper Lusatia happened to find an important trove of silver, known as the Cortnitz hoard. Most of the coins and silver jewelry pieces from the 11th century were hacked. The fragments came from Bohemia and Moravia, but also from Bulgaria, Scandinavia and even Baghdad. Hacked fragments of silver served as currency before official coinage was established.


Author: Klaus Krämer


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