Four years ago, an art collector picked up an old stone bust at a Texas thrift shop for less than $40. It was money well spent: The sculpture has been confirmed to be an artifact straight out of ancient Rome. KHOU reports that Laura Young stumbled upon the bust, nestled under a table, while browsing the wares of a Goodwill store in Austin in 2018. She paid $34.99 for it, though she suspected it might be worth more than that. For years, Young conferred with auction houses and art history experts from the University of Texas at Austin, trying to determine the sculpture's provenance, reports USA Today. Then, eureka—a Sotheby's consultant informed Young it was an ancient Roman bust dating to somewhere between the late first century BC and the early first century AD.
The bust has a most "peculiar backstory," as CBS News puts it. Per the San Antonio Museum of Art, the sculpture had originally been under the ownership of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and was housed in Aschaffenburg, Germany, at the Pompejanum, a full-scale replica of a villa from Pompeii. Experts believe the bust was modeled after a son of Pompey the Great, whom Julius Caesar vanquished in a civil war. The king died in 1868, but the sculpture stayed put—until World War II, when the Pompejanum was bombed by Allied forces and the bust disappeared.
It's not clear how it made its way to the States, though the museum speculates that a US soldier stationed overseas brought it home, as multiple military bases run by the US Army existed in Aschaffenburg after the war. Young says she experienced a few months of "intense excitement" after she realized what she'd gotten her hands on. But that emotion soon turned "bittersweet," as she knew her time with the bust could only be temporary (and that she wasn't going to get paid for the artifact). "Either way, I’m glad I got to be a small part of [its] long and complicated history, and he looked great in the house while I had him," she tells KHOU. The bust will eventually head home to Germany, but it's on display at SAMA for the next year. (Read more discoveries stories.)