Nineteen stolen cultural treasures — including a 16th-century book that had been purchased at auction by the Johns Hopkins University — were returned to Italy this week by U.S. authorities.
The artifacts, which were returned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, had been smuggled into the country within the past few years and were located in seven cities from New York to San Francisco, according to a news release.
The seized items ranged from a 17th-century cannon to fifth-century Greek pottery to a marble lid from an ancient Roman sarcophagus. Several of the items had been looted from tombs and archaeological sites.
"The cultural and symbolic worth of these Italian treasures far surpasses any monetary value to the Italians," Anthony Scandiffio, deputy special agent in charge of New York's office of Homeland Security, said in the release.
A spokesman for the Homeland Security department said that the Hopkins item, "Historia Natural di Ferrante Imperato Napolitano," was one of three books from a natural history research collection that had been pilfered from Historical National Library of Agriculture in Rome.
The author, Ferrante Imperato Napolitano, was an Italian apothecary who lived between 1525 and 1615. The scientific manuscript he published in 1599 is said to be among the first to correctly identify the processes through which fossils were formed, subjecting them to empirical tests.
A representative for Hopkins purchased the antique book at an auction in Italy in 2011, not realizing that it had been stolen. The university relinquished the book to federal authorities in October, 2013.
A Hopkins official couldn't immediately be reached for comment Thursday.