A 24-year-old man attending an “ugly sweater” party at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia wandered away from the holiday gathering, slipped through an unlocked door into a room containing Terracotta statues of ancient warriors, took a selfie of himself with a 2,000-year-old warrior, and then decided to break off a thumb of the warrior statue and put it in his pocket.
In so doing, Michael Rohana of Delaware has called forth the fury of the People’s Republic of China.
The statue, worth $4.5 million, was on temporary loan from China. It was part of the “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” exhibit, which was a featured exhibit at the Franklin Institute on Dec. 21st, the night of the “ugly sweater party.”
It was not until January 8th that museum staff noticed the missing thumb, and they called in the FBI. Agents tracked the crime to Rohana five days later. While interviewing Rohana in his home, the FBI agents allegedly found the missing thumb in a bedroom drawer.
China reacted strongly to news of the crime. Wu Haiyun, the director of the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center, which loaned the sacred statues to the Franklin Institute, criticized the museum for its “careless” guarding of the statue, which is considered an archaeological find.
“We ask that the U.S. severely punish the perpetrator. We have lodged a serious protest with them,” Wu Haiyun said, according to the BBC.
Rohana has reportedly been charged with theft and concealment of a major artwork, along with interstate transportation of stolen goods. He was released on bail February 16th.
The party was called “Science After Hours: Ugly Sweater Party,” and invited guests to the Franklin Institute from 7 to 10 P.M. on December 21st. The description on Facebook read: “Don your ugliest sweater for a holiday party at The Franklin Institute, where we really get into the spirit of the season! Unwrap the science of snow, discover the secrets of the winter solstice, and be dazzled by the twinkling lights.”
Rohana was reportedly wearing a green sweater and a Phillies hat at the party, and was part of a group who sneaked into the room of the exhibit, which was supposed to be locked in order to protect the Terracotta statues, but wasn’t.
As for the Franklin Institute itself, it describes its mission: “At The Franklin Institute, we help people understand science and technology in ways that empower them to make decisions about critical issues that affect their lives. We also participate in and advocate for the free exchange of evidence-based, peer-reviewed scientific research and ideas. The Institute is proud to welcome all who are curious, and to continue Benjamin Franklin’s legacy of lifelong learning, as we have done for 193 years.”
The exhibit, on loan from China since 2017, contains 10 warriors, along with coins, jade, and weapons excavated from same site. The Terracotta statues are approximately 2,000 years old. They were believed to be cavalrymen guarding the tomb of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.
The objects were found in 1974, while farmers were digging a well.
After the crime came to light, the authorities at the Franklin Institute have expressed anguish over the damage done. A spokesman said: “This was a deplorable act, and we share in the condemnation of this crime as expressed by our partners at the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center. The institute has been working with the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office to ensure that justice for the individual responsible is served.”
The Chinese center has offered to send experts to Philadelphia to assist in repairing the statue.
The entire warrior exhibit is on display at the Franklin Institute through early March. On its website, the institute says of the statues’ “monumental” discovery: “Buried beneath the surface of the land were thousands of life-sized statues, constructed over 2,000 years ago—silently and steadfastly guarding the tomb of their master: China’s first emperor.
“In the years since their discovery, archaeologists have excavated and researched these warriors—exploring their intricacies, uncovering their histories, and unraveling the secrets that have lain beneath our feet since 210 BCE.”
Nancy Bilyeau, the U.S. editor of The Vintage News, has written a trilogy of novels set in the court of Henry VIII: ‘The Crown,’ ‘The Chalice,’ and ‘The Tapestry.’ The first book, ‘The Crown,’ was an Oprah selection. The books are for sale in the U.S., the U.K., and seven other countries. For more information, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.