Italian police say they have recovered more than 3,500 artifacts as the result of a long-term operation involving hundreds of officers. The operation resulted in the arrest of 21 suspects, according to CNN. The announcement was made at a press conference in Puglia on earlier this week.
The police department for the protection of cultural heritage, the Carabinieri, worked with the special operations group ROS and the “Cacciatori Puglia” airborne squadron to carry out dozens of searches against individuals suspected of looting and illicit excavations as well as the trafficking of stolen archaeology artifacts with “inestimable historical, cultural and commercial value.”
According to the Italian daily newspaper La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno, the operation was nicknamed “Canusium,” a reference to the ancient name of the municipality where the trafficking group based its operations. Investigative work and precautionary measures spanned the regions of Puglia, Basilicata, Campania, Lazio, and Abruzzo, and lasted almost a year.
While 21 suspects have been arrested so far as part of Operation Canusium, investigators said there are a total of 51 suspects, including grave robbers, international traffickers, and a type of middleman known as a fence. The fences placed the illicit archaeology items, among them vases, jewels, oil lamps, and gold coins, up for sale in both domestic and international markets.
The 3,586 artifacts that have been recovered include loom weights, bell-shaped kraters, jugs, cups, plates, miniature vases, oil lamps, and coins from as early as the 4th century BCE.
Prosecutor Francesco Tosto called the found items rare and valuable, estimating the value of the coins to be €50,000–€60,000.
According to CNN, Italian police also recovered 60 metal detectors and other objects consistent with clandestine excavations, including long metal spikes and shovels.