Objects include pot shards, stone tools, obsidian and flint blades and bone material that were excavated illegally in 1941 by Nazi archaeologists under the guidance of Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler’s chief ideologist
An archaeologist inspects some of the returned items (Photo: ANA-MPA) A hoard of 10,600 neolithic objects removed from Greece illegally during the second world war were welcomed back to the country at an event in Athens on Monday, which was attended by Greek and German officials.
The objects include pot shards, stone tools, obsidian and flint blades and bone material that were excavated illegally between June and December 1941 by Nazi archaeologists under the guidance of Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler’s chief ideologist.
The Nazis were keen to use the find to claim that the ancestors of the Greeks had originated in northern Europe, where they had established presence from prehistoric times.
The event, held at the culture ministry’s directorate of registration and protection of cultural material, was attended by the culture minister, the German ambassador, the director of the German archaeological open air neolithic museum at Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen – which was instrumental in the return – and Greek and German archaeologists.
Angelica Douzougli, an honorary ephor of antiquities whose doctoral dissertation led to the discovery of the material, spoke of how her search began in the 1970s, from a prehistoric archaeology seminar at the University of Nuremberg, where she was studying and where her interest focused on agricultural and animal breeding communities of Thessaly.
The materials repatriated on Monday come from several sites in Thessaly, an area that has yielded a richness of neolithic material. Most of it can be traced to the Visviki Magoula, or tumulus, dated to between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago. The Visviki material was packed in 28 boxes, five of which were returned to Greece in the 1950s.
The material will be housed for now at the National Archaeological Museum, which also has the material from the 1950s. The study of the material will be augmented by photographs from the 1940s showing modern lake communities of Thessaly in and around Lake Karla (no longer extant) which resemble those of Lake Constance (Bodensee), in Germany, recreated by the Pfahlbaumuseum – focusing on the stone and bronze ages – which assisted in the repatriation of the material.
“Unfortunately, the most important material, eight boxes that remained in Volos in 1941, is now lost,” museum director Gunter Schöbel said.
Ministry officials reviewed the directorate’s efforts to repatriate material stolen during the occupation, including 26 cases handled by Rosenberg’s bureau involving 1,158 objects, 41 boxes with Jewish manuscripts and other palaeolithic findings.
Director Suzanna Houlia-Kapeloni said that of all the cases, objects were returned to Greece by Germany (12 instances), Austria (3), Switzerland (3), Italy (2), United States (2), Britain (2), Australia (1) and Bulgaria (1).
The ministry’s director of antiquities and cultural heritage, Maria Vlazaki, said the repatriation of the material was “a double cause of joy … as German, Greek and Austrian archaeologists worked closely together to make this happen”.
Culture Minister Konstantinos Tassoulas referred to the symbolism of the gesture, noting that such moves contribute decisively to the strengthening of bilateral ties.
A more formal ceremony for the return of the antiquities was held at the Pfahlbaumuseum in Unteruhldingen last Wednesday.
The repatriation of Greek cultural artefacts is among Greece’s demands for German wartime reparations, according to the foreign ministry.