Photo in the News: Looted Peru Headdress Recovered in London

Gold headdress from Peru photo
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August 18, 2006—A Peruvian treasure lost for nearly 20 years has turned up in the offices of a London law firm, local police announced yesterday.

London's Metropolitan Police took possession of a pre-Inca headdress—estimated to be at least 1,300 years old—made by the Moche civilization of northern Peru (map of Peru). The object is due to be returned to Peruvian authorities.

The gold artifact, which bears the image of a feline sea god with octopuslike tentacles, had vanished from a royal tomb in Peru in the late 1980s. It was brought to the law firm by a client who says he did not know that it had been stolen.

Michel Van Rijn, an international art dealer who helped police track down the artifact, said in a statement to police that the headdress could be worth nearly a million British pounds.

"It's impossible to overestimate the importance of this piece," Van Rijn said. "It … will draw enormous crowds when it is finally retuned to a museum or gallery [in Peru]."

Christine Hastorf, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, is an expert in early South American civilizations. She says the gold ornament was intended to be worn with the face on the user's forehead and the octopus limbs reaching high above the wearer's head.

"If you see Moche pottery, you'll see the elegant people, and they'll look surreal because they have this wild thing on their heads," Hastorf said. "That's what this would be."

Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva excavated one of the most famous Moche sites, the Royal Tombs of Sipán, in 1987 under a grant from the National Geographic Society. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Alva told police that he is thrilled that the recovered headdress will soon be returned to Peru.

"Without a doubt this is a very important moment in the worldwide war against illicit art and the looting of my country," he said in a statement.

—Richard A. Lovett

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