Restored Ancient Cup Is Amazing, but a Little Fishy

Investigators seized it from the Met, are skeptical about its miraculous trail of shards
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2023 1:55 PM CDT
Restored Ancient Cup Is Amazing. Also, a Little Fishy
Stock image of an ancient Greek vessel, though not the one seized from the Met.   (Getty / audioworm)

In one sense, the story told about an ancient Greek drinking cup known as a kylix in the New York Times is one of an amazing feat of historical puzzle-solving. In 1978, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City bought shards of pottery from a Swiss dealer, a not-so-unusual move. Over the next 16 years, it gradually acquired similar shards, and its experts were finally able to fit them together to restore the cup, one that dates to about 490BC and to what the story by Graham Bowley and Tom Mashberg calls the "golden age of Greek pottery." The drinking vessel is now valued at $1 million. But that's only the first part of the story. The second is that investigators, suspicious about how all those individual shards fortuitously ended up in the Met's hands, seized the cup last year as part of a looting investigation.

Exactly what transpired with this particular kylix remains unclear. But the story explains how selling an ancient relic piece by piece, or shard by shard, is a well-known tactic of looters. It draws less suspicion for one thing, and it will surely make the final shard—the last piece of the puzzle—far more valuable than the first ones acquired. In some cases, looters have been known to deliberately break a relic to sell it in this fashion. In the kylix's case, the shards came from multiple dealers or collectors, though "three of them were later associated with the sale of looted antiquities." A fourth also is interesting: Dietrich von Bothmer, who was a longtime curator of Greek and Roman artifacts at the Met itself. He bought some of the early fragments for the museum, then apparently discovered that he had parts of the cup in his own personal collection and donated the final piece. It remains unclear where he or the others acquired the fragments. Read the full story. (Or read other longform stories.)

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