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In this handout photo, a centuries old gold mask is presented at the Foreign Minister Building in Lima, Peru on Friday, Sept. 15, 2006.

Looted Gold Headdress Returned to Peru

Associated Press
September 15, 2006 -

Peru celebrated the return Friday of a prized 1,300-year-old embossed gold headdress looted from an ancient tomb nearly 20 years ago. With a feline face at its center and eight curving tentacles, the artifact which collectors say could be among Peru's most valuable treasures and worth close to $2 million was recovered last month in a raid on a London lawyer's office.

The golden headdress was made in the image of an ancient sea god and dates back to around 700 A.D., making it a prized example of artwork by the Mochica civilization that inhabited northern Peru.

It was recovered last month by Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques squad after an undercover "sting" operation.

Flanked Friday by a heavily armed police detail, Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde delivered the headdress looted in 1988 from a tomb in the Jequetepeque valley in northern Peru to the nation's National Museum.

There he was met by top National Cultural Institute officials, British Ambassador Catherine Nettleton and Walter Alva, of Peru's Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum.

"Today marks the return of an ornament of extraordinary importance, culturally, artistically," Alva told reporters. "This is the crown of a king from ancient Peru."

Alva thanked Interpol and Scotland Yard, as well as Michel Van Rijn, a London-based art dealer, who alerted officers to the existence of the piece after he was asked to facilitate its sale and realized it had likely been stolen.

Peruvian officials got in touch with Scotland Yard through the international police agency Interpol in Lima, and the headdress was seized in a dusty cabinet of a London law firm, officials said.

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