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Prosecutors Seize Ancient Roman Bust From Mass. Museum

A second-century Roman bust valued at up to $5 million was seized by Manhattan prosecutors from a Massachusetts art museum in an investigation of antiquities smuggled from what is now Turkey. The Worcester Art Museum purchased the bronze bust in 1966. it said that it didn't know the bust was likely stolen, the Wall Street Journal reports. The bust, called “Portrait of a Lady (A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?),” is believed to depict the daughter of a Roman emperor. Prosecutors believe the artwork was one of several antiquities trafficked through Manhattan after it was looted from Bubon, an ancient city in what is now southwest Turkey.

Western museums such as the Worcester Art Museum have started reckoning with social shifts that have increased pressure to return items acquired in the colonial era. Some museums have pledged to give items back, but others, including the British Museum, have declined. The Turkish government has been campaigning for years to get artifacts returned to their homeland. Officials there have said items like figurines, idols, statues and sarcophagi were stolen from their country. The Roman bust in Worcester, 40 miles west of Boston, likely originated from a family shrine in Turkey dedicated to either Marcus Aurelius or Septimius Severus. The bust is less than two feet tall and was found with its head and shoulders separated. A spokeswoman said that the museum planned to hire a provenance research specialist and would increase scrutiny of its existing collection.

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