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Stolen Artifacts are Big Business

Ian Harvey
Credit: KPP Wadowicach

As many archeological sites are in remote places around the world exposed to the elements, looting has been a problem since the ancient Egyptians.

Whether it is done by civilians or members of a government entity it is illegal. The country of Poland has recently found hundreds of illegal artifacts during an undercover operation in Andrychów in southern Poland. A certain person was being watched for quite some time and a tip from a neighbor gave them enough evidence that they could raid the man’s home.

Four hundred artifacts were found stored in boxes strewn all over the house and attic, according to police spokesman Agnieszka Petek.

Ancient stirrups. Credit: KPP Wadowicach

Ancient stirrups. Credit: KPP Wadowicach

Many of the artifacts were found by a metal detector and dug without the permission of the landowner or reporting the items to the proper authorities which would have allowed archeologists to go in and excavate them properly.

Some were bought in local markets where there are no guarantees that the item is even authentic much less obtained legally.

There is also a deluge of artifacts being sold illegally on online auction sites.
According to thefirstnews.com, the objects found in the man’s home were historical pieces of jewelry, buttons, arrow heads and lead bullets. Swords, num-chuks, hammers and knife blades from the Middle Ages were also in the collection.

Detectingschool.com tells us that if someone in Poland is caught using a metal detector without a license it is possible that they could receive up to a two year prison sentence. If any artifacts are found regardless of the method it is illegal to not turn them in to the authorities.

If artifacts are discovered during construction everything needs to be stopped until officials can examine the site. Digging for gold is also illegal in Poland without a permit from the offices of Wojewódzki Konserwator Zabytków.

Poland.travel tells us there are many stories about abandoned treasure in Poland including the train supposedly carrying Nazi gold. The story tells about the train which was stopped just after leaving Piechowice with the crew murdered by the Nazis.

Rumor has it that the train is now in an underground tunnel in the Sobiesz mountains near Piechowice in Lower Silesia. Another rumor claims the train loaded with hidden gold disappeared in a tunnel in between Swiebodzice and Wałbrzych in 1944.

Lead bullets and arrows. Credit: KPP Wadowicach

Lead bullets and arrows. Credit: KPP Wadowicach

There is also a tale of the treasure of the Knights Templar which was brought to France. King Philip IV of France was indebted to the Knights and hoped to seize their treasure but it suddenly disappeared.

Rumors say it was buried under the Knight’s temple in Chwarszczany. The collection of the Wroclaw University Library, over one thousand pounds of gold, is still lost after being thrown from a plane over the Tuchola Forest.

Russian commander Aleksandr Vasilyevich Samsonov, a general in World War I was humiliated by the loss of the Battle of Tannenberg and killed himself near the field in 1914. His belongings were never recovered and could very well still be under the ground in the forest near Willenberg.

Dorothée de Courlande, a German noblewoman who died in a carriage accident while living in Zagan, Poland left a large collection of paintings, furniture and manuscripts. Before the Russians came in her collection was packed away and hidden with the location still a mystery to this day.

Nytimes.com tells us there are many artworks now in Polish museums that were looted by the Germans from Jews in World War II. The Polish government is working to return over sixty three thousand works of art to their rightful owners.

Kamil Zeidler, a law professor at the University of Gdansk claims that the Polish government isn’t so quick to return art pieces to their rightful owners in the Netherlands, some of which are on display in a museum in Gdansk.

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Gideon Taylor, chair of operations for the World Jewish Restitution Organization claims that all that is needed is to make the works of art available to the public to see and develop a process to return the art to families but Poland has done neither.