Looted marble Mask of Gorgon returned to Algeria

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Artefact found in Tunisia beside the swimming pool of the ousted president’s family

By Garry Shaw. Web only
Published online: 11 April 2014

The Mask of Gorgon was among 165 archaeological objects that turned up in Sakher el-Materi’s villa

Tunisia has returned the “Mask of Gorgon” to Algeria. The white marble artefact was found sitting beside a swimming pool in the villa of Sakher el-Materi, the son-in-law of Tunisia’s ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The “Mask of Gorgon” was originally discovered in Annaba, formerly the Roman African city of Hippo Regius, in east Algeria, and it disappeared from there in 1996. After Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, the work was among 165 archaeological objects that turned up in el-Materi’s villa in Hammamet, 70km southeast of Tunis. El-Materi sought asylum in the Seychelles and has since been convicted in absentia of corruption and property fraud. The mask remained in Tunisia for nearly three years until the legal procedures for its return to Algeria were finalized.

Under Ben Ali’s regime, members of the former president’s family reportedly decorated their homes with antiquities taken from museums, many of which have since been returned. Despite the removal of Ben Ali, Tunisia’s heritage is still under threat. In November 2013, a fifth-century statue of Ganymede was stolen from the Carthage Paleo-Christian Museum in Tunis, leading to the arrest of three security personnel. The next month, nine people in Siliana, 130km south-west of Tunis, were arrested for selling antiquities taken from el-Materi’s villa.

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