U.S. officials have repatriated a 2,700-year-old ivory object to the Palestinian Authority this week after it was seized as part of a larger investigation into New York art collector and venture capitalist Michael Steinhardt.
The ivory object, etched with a winged figure on one side and described as a “cosmetic spoon,” was used to laden incense onto fires during rites for gods and the dead. The item dates to between 800 B.C.E. and 700 B.C.E., and is believed to be from the vast Assyrian civilization.
Steinhardt purchased the item from Israeli antiquities dealer Gil Chaya in 2003. Chaya has been accused of selling hundreds of illicit Israeli and Middle Eastern items, at least 28 of which were sold to Steinhardt, according to the New York Times. The spoon’s seizure is part of an investigation into 180 stolen antiquities valued at $70 million; Steinhardt agreed to a lifetime ban on acquiring antiquities as part of the inquiry.
A press release from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr. said it was the first time a cultural object has been returned to the Palestinian people from the United States.
“This artifact is important as it acquires its real scientific and archaeological value in its authentic location,” said Rula Maayah, the Palestinian minister of tourism and antiquities, during a ceremony at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Bethlehem this week.
George Noll, Chief of the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs, called it a historic moment between the American and Palestinian people, “and a demonstration of our belief in the power of cultural exchanges in building mutual understanding, respect, and partnership.”