Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced on May 9 the return of two 7th-century stone carvings from a funerary platform, collectively valued at nearly $3.5 million, to the people of China. In the early 1990s, thieves used saws to cut the antiquities from a tomb in China and smuggled the pieces out of the country. From 1998 until this Office’s seizure in 2023, the antiquities were loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Shelby White, a private collector based in Manhattan. Earlier this year, the Office concluded a criminal investigation into antiquities purchased by White, resulting in the seizure of 89 antiquities from 10 different countries and collectively valued at nearly $69 million. The two carvings were returned during a repatriation ceremony at the Chinese Consulate with Consul General Huang Ping.
“It is a shame that these two incredible antiquities were stolen and at least one remained largely hidden from the public view for nearly three decades. While their total value is more than $3 million, the incredible detail and beauty of these pieces can never be truly captured by a price tag,” said District Attorney Bragg.
“Cultural property embodies human wisdom and creativity. They are the link between the past and the present. They are also an important bridge connecting different countries and cultures. That is why we regard the crackdown on crimes against cultural property a sacred mission,” said Consul General Huang Ping.
Prior to the Office’s seizure from the Met, one of the two carvings had been in the museum’s storage area for 25 years — and never was displayed. This antiquity was also never cleaned and is caked with dirt, another tell-tale sign of its illicit origin.
The stone carvings on the pieces depict themes from the Zoroastrian religion, which include good demons killing devils in hell, dogs that purify the body, and masked caretakers of the sacred flame, dressed in feathered cloaks with bird feet. Both pieces weigh over 1,000 pounds.
During District Attorney Bragg’s tenure, the ATU has recovered more than 800 antiquities stolen from 24 countries and valued at more than $155 million. Since its creation, the ATU has recovered nearly 4,500 antiquities stolen from 29 countries and valued at more than $375 million.
Under District Attorney Bragg, the Antiquities Trafficking Unit (ATU) has repatriated more than 950 antiquities stolen from 19 countries and valued at more than $165 million. Since its creation, the ATU has returned more than 2,450 antiquities to 24 countries and valued at more than $230 million.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos, Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit and Senior Trial Counsel, supervised the investigation, which was conducted by Assistant District Attorney Taylor Holland; Supervising Investigative Analyst Apsara Iyer, Investigative Analyst Daniel Healey and Hilary Chassé; and Special Agent Robert Mancene of Homeland Security Investigations. The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank Shelby White for her assistance and cooperation with our investigation.