Switzerland repatriates Hellenistic artifact to Libya

Press releases, 05.12.2023

The Director of the Federal Office of Culture (FOC), Carine Bachmann, handed over a marble sculpture of a young woman’s head at the Libyan Embassy in Bern today. This culturally significant archaeological find had been confiscated during criminal proceedings in the canton of Geneva. The repatriation of the artifact took place in accordance with the Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property.

The sculpture, which measures 19 centimetres high, dates to the period between the first century BC and 1st century AD. It most likely originated from the archaeological site of the ancient city of Cyrene, located in the Cyrenaica region in present-day Libya. It was found as part of a customs inspection in a customs warehouse in Geneva in 2013. In response to a complaint from the customs authorities, the cantonal prosecutor’s office initiated criminal proceedings in 2016 that ultimately led to the confiscation of the object. There was sufficient reason to believe that it had been acquired as part of an illegal excavation. Importing stolen or looted cultural goods into Switzerland or storing them in a customs warehouse is a violation of the Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property (CPTA), which has been in force since 2005. The investigation was not able to determine where exactly the object had been found or how it ended up in Switzerland, however.

The sculpture is completely covered with a reddish patina that points to its origins in Cyrenaica, which is one of the few regions around the Mediterranean that has “terra rossa” as well as marble of this quality. It is tangible evidence of Greek expansion in North Africa.

Libya and its UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Cyrene are heavily threatened by looting and destruction. In 2015, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) issued an Emergency Red List of endangered antiques in Libya in order to take action against this destruction and illegal trade. 

Switzerland and Libya are both party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The CPTA transposes this convention into Swiss law.

Further information:

More information

Marble sculpture of a woman’s head, Cyrene (Libya) , 1st to 2nd century BC(jpg, 8183kb)
Marble sculpture of a woman’s head, Cyrene (Libya) , 1st to 2nd century BC(jpg, 8230kb)
Marble sculpture of a woman’s head, Cyrene (Libya) , 1st to 2nd century BC(jpg, 8069kb)

Address for enquiries:

Fabienne Baraga, Head of the Specialised Body for the International Transfer of Cultural Property, Federal Office of Culture FOC,
+41 58 465 73 05, kgt@bak.admin.ch


Federal Department of Home Affairs