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I shot this back in January and edited and forgot to do anything with it until now.

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Another Columbus letter makes it home

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MayflowerWILMINGTON, Delaware — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigation Philadelphia special agents and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware returned Thursday a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to the Vatican during a repatriation ceremony at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (the “Vatican Library) in Vatican City. The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the Vatican Library and later sold in 2004 for approximately $875,000. This is the third Christopher Columbus’ letter repatriation in the past two years.

The return marks the second Columbus letter to be returned this months and the third in recent years.

In or around Dec. 1921, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus donated a copy of the Columbus Letter (along with thousands of other rare books and manuscripts) to Pope Benedict XV. The Columbus Letter was preserved in the Vatican Library. After receiving a copy of the Columbus Letter, at no time did the Vatican City State or the Vatican Library relinquish title to this document. In or around 1934, a detailed description of the Vatican Library’s copy of the Columbus Letter was cataloged in the census copies of the standard bibliography of fifteenth-century printing, otherwise known as the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (volume VI, Leipzig, 1934, no. 7177). At an unknown time and date, the Columbus Letter was stolen from the Vatican Library and replaced with a forgery, which was designed to appear like the original letter.

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Columbus letter returned

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Photo courtesy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice returned a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to Spain during an evening repatriation ceremony at the Residence of the Spanish Ambassador to the United States on June 6, 2018.

The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and sold for approximately $1 million.

In March 2013, it was discovered that the Columbus Letter believed to have been stolen from Barcelona was reportedly sold for 900,000 euros in June 2011. Following extensive negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, the individual in possession of the letter volunteered to transfer custody to HSI Special Agents, which was then brought to Wilmington, Delaware in February 2014 for further examination. In March 2014, a subject matter expert evaluated the letter and determined that the document was “beyond all doubt” the original stolen from the National Library of Catalonia.

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Sharing a thunderstorm 

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Plea in whale teeth trafficking

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John “Jake” Bell, of Lakeville, Connecticut, pleaded guilty June 6 to illegally trafficking teeth from endangered sperm whales.

Bell pleaded guilty today in Boston to one count of wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act. As part of his plea, Bell admitted that in November 2004, while in the Ukraine, he sold approximately 34 sperm whale teeth to a co-conspirator who resided in Nantucket, Massachusetts, for $11,600. Bell shipped the 34 teeth in multiple boxes from the Ukraine to an associate in Connecticut, from where his co-conspirator retrieved them. Bell’s co-conspirator was convicted in 2010 after a jury trial and sentenced to 33 months in prison.

According to the indictment, Bell acquired the teeth and smuggled them into the United States. Bell, who was an artist and scrimshander, carved some of the teeth he sold, but also sold uncarved teeth to customers. According to papers filed in federal court, between July 2005 and June 2006, Bell smuggled in excess of 49 pounds of sperm whale teeth into the United States, valued in excess of $26,000. Also, according to these filings, between June 2007 and April 2008, Bell sold nine carved teeth to customers in the United States, with a total value of $20,300. 

The Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act protects sperm whales and prohibits their parts from being sold in interstate or foreign commerce or imported into the United States without a permit.

Artifacts from Hobby Lobby probe returned to Iraq

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ICE returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer. Contributed photo.

 
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer.

Many of the tablets can be shown to come from the ancient city of Irisagrig. The tablets, primarily from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE), are mostly legal and administrative documents, but also include an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period. Two clay cones are inscribed with royal inscriptions from the Early Dynastic Lagash II periods (mid-third millennium BCE). The clay bullae include artifacts believed to be of Parthian or Sasanian date (late 2nd cent. BCE – early 7th cent. AD).

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Photo: Frozen lake

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Frozen Lake. (c) 2018 J.S. Reinitz

Artifacts seized in Interpol operation

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A marble head was among the seizures made during the first joint customs and police operation codenamed Athena organized by the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL, and the Europe-focused Operation Pandora II coordinated by the Spanish Guardia Civil and Europol. courtesy photo

 More than 41,000 objects including coins, furniture, paintings, musical instruments, archaeological pieces and sculptures were seized in a global operation targeting the trafficking of cultural artifacts between October and December 2017.

The seizures were made during the customs and police operation codenamed Athena organized by the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL, and the Europe-focused Operation Pandora II coordinated by the Spanish Guardia Civil and Europol.

It included checks at airports and border crossing points, searches at auction houses, museums and private homes and monitoring of online markets.

In just one investigation in Spain, the Guardia Civil seized more than 2,000 cultural objects, the majority of which were coins from the Roman and other Empires.

Officials also seized 88 pieces of ivory as well as weapons including swords, a crossbow and 39 historical firearms ranging from rifles to pistols.

Other highlights:

· Argentinean Federal Police recovered the shell of a Glyptodon, an extinct mammal. The shell, estimated to be more than one million years old, was on sale for $150,000.

· Brazilian Customs seized a marble head hidden in a passenger’s suitcase. Verification of the piece’s provenance is ongoing.

· A painting by Nicolas de Staël worth approximately € 500,000 was intercepted by French Customs at the Gare du Nord in Paris as it was being smuggled to London.

· Searches of a businessman’s two homes and two commercial properties by Greek Police resulted in the recovery of 41 archaeological objects which did not have the necessary license. 

Tens of thousands of checks were carried out at airports and border crossing points across 81 countries. Auction houses, museums and private houses were also searched, resulting in more than 300 investigations being opened and 101 people arrested. courtesy photo.

Two charged with theft of relic gold bar

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  Two men have been charged in the theft of a gold bar from a Key West, Florida, museum in 2010. According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

The defendants are accused of driving to Key West from West Palm Beach on or about August 18, 2010, and entering the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. It is alleged that Jared Alexander Goldman, 32, of Palm Beach Gardens stood guard as a lookout to enable Richard Steven Johnson, 41, of Rio Linda, Calif., to steal the gold bar. Johnson then allegedly removed the gold bar from its display case at the museum and both defendants then drove back to West Palm Beach. The gold bar has not been recovered.

The 75-ounce bar was originally found in 1980 in the wreck of the Spanish galleon Santa Margarita, which sank in 1622. It had been on display in an acrylic case that allowed museum visitors to lift the bar. 

It had been valued at $550,000.

More about the museum can be found here

Photo: Sunrise through trees

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Jail sentence in timber theft

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courtesy photo

 A Washington state man has Ben sentenced to 30 days in jail for chopping down a big leaf maple on federal land near Olympic National Park. Authorities said 63-year-old Michael Welches and others sold the wood to an instrument maker.

According to the Department of Justice:

On November 11, 2013, a neighbor residing near the Elwha restoration project lands notified the Park Service that he had heard chainsaws in the middle of the night. The neighbor said he saw people in the woods wearing headlamps. The neighbor reported similar activity a few nights later. The ranger investigated in daylight and found a felled big leaf maple. He asked the neighbor to call him directly if he heard or saw additional activity. The next night, at 1:00 AM the neighbor alerted the ranger. Law enforcement responded and arrested WELCHES and two codefendants as they were cutting and loading the felled maple. A receipt indicated the men had sold the wood to a Quilcene, Washington music wood supplier. Wood retrieved from that supplier matched the wood from the felled maple. 

The value of the timber as music wood is estimated to be $8,766.
Welches has a prior conviction from 2004 for cutting in a state timber trust, according to DOJ.

A second defendant, Matthew Hutto, has pleaded guilty is awaiting sentencing, and a third man, Richard Welches, is being sought by law enforcement. 

Cow head and two torsos returned to Lebanon

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  The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently sent three sculptures looted from the Temple of Eshmun back to Lebanon The objects had been seized with a court warrant, and the owners surrendered them after learning of their background, according to the DA’s office. The items include:

— Torso E1912: In November, a marble torso, circa the 4th century B.C.E., was recovered from a private owner who acquired it after the statue was excavated in the 1970s from the Temple of Eshmun, an ancient place of worship near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon. The item was subsequently stolen during the Lebanese Civil War and sold by an antiquities dealer before being shipped to New York.

— The Calf Bearer: In October, another marble torso, circa the 6th century B.C.E. and valued at approximately $4.5 million, was recovered from a private owner who acquired the artifact after it too was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1970s, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors.

— The Bull’s Head: In July, a marble bull’s head, circa 360 B.C.E. and valued at approximately $1.2 million, was recovered from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan for display by a private collector who acquired the statue after it was also was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1960s, transferred to the Byblos Citadel in Jubayl, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors..

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