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Byzantine bother: Artifacts back in German museum after decades

Published time: February 07, 2012 15:52
Edited time: February 07, 2012 19:52
Lost antique artifacts return to Berlin after decades (Photo: Ägyptisches Museum)

Lost antique artifacts return to Berlin after decades (Photo: Ägyptisches Museum)

A Berlin museum is celebrating the return of dozens of Byzantine artifacts, which spent years in Soviet Russia after World War Two. Some date back as far as the 4th century – yet it is their recent history that reads like a real detective story.

­By the end of the war in 1945, the Byzantine collection of Berlin’s Bode Museum totaled some 6,000 objects. To save them from Soviet hands and keep them in Germany, the artifacts were divided into groups, stored in crates and spirited away.

Almost half of the hidden treasures were however found and taken to the USSR, where they stayed for over a decade.

In 1958, the gems were brought back to Germany. But instead of being identified and sent back where they belonged, they got mixed up with other artifacts and ended up in Leipzig University’s Egyptian Museum for decades.

“It was impossible to identify the objects when they returned to Leipzig in 1958. Most of them simply had no accession numbers attached,” says Dietrich Raue of the Egyptian Museum at Leipzig University.

“Some of the accession numbers contained letters – DB,” Dietrich Raue says. “At first we thought those stood for Dresdner Bank or Deutsche Buecherei. But it turned out those were Cyrillic ДВ – standing for Ancient East in Russian.”

Now the confusion is over, and two crates containing 44 pieces, mostly Egyptian, have come home to the Bode, which is situated on Berlin’s Museum Island. They include four late antiquity North African clay oil lamps, Egyptian vases and vessels dating back to the 5-7th centuries, and other goodies.

Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, says the valuable objects’ return is a "great stroke of luck".

After being displayed in a special show until next month, the artifacts will enter the museum’s permanent exhibition.