Head of Buddha from the seventh century

Head of Buddha from the seventh century / U.S. Department of Justice

The Metropolitan Museum of Art says it will return 16 ancient artifacts back to Cambodia and Thailand. The works, mostly sculptures, had been looted from those countries years ago during decades of civil war and unrest.

Among the works are a large head of Buddha made of stone in the seventh century, and a tenth century sandstone goddess statue from the Koh Ker archaeological site.

Thirteen of the works are being returned to Cambodia in concert with an investigation from the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York and Homeland Security. The Met also independently determined that two other works from the period should be returned to Thailand, and one other work to Cambodia.

Erin Keegan, a special agent with Homeland Security, said in a statement that the investigation had revealed that the works had been "shamelessly stolen" by the art dealer, collector and scholar Douglas A. J. Latchford, who was indicted in 2019 for "running a vast antiquities trafficking network out of Southeast Asia," according to United States Attorney Damien Williams. Latchford died the following year, but had denied any involvement in smuggling.

10th century goddess statue from Koh Ker archaelogical site in Cambodia

10th century goddess statue from Koh Ker archaelogical site in Cambodia / U.S. Department of Justice

Met officials say they are reviewing their collecting practices, and are hiring additional staff as provenance researchers.

Max Hollein, the chief executive officer of the Met, said in a statement that the museum is "committed to pursuing partnerships and collaborations with Cambodia and Thailand that will advance the world's understanding and appreciation of Khmer art, and we look forward to embarking on this new chapter together."

Until the artworks are returned, 10 of the artworks will remain on view at the museum, though the wall texts accompanying them will note that they are in the process of being repatriated.

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