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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 December 2005, 14:41 GMT
Italian police catch tomb raider
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Italian officer with antiques haul
Police said the suspect used to run a flea market stall in Rome
Police in Rome have seized thousands of antique vases, statues and jewellery at the home of a 74-year-old tomb robber and dealer in stolen antiquities.

The investigating officers described the cache as "enough treasure to fill a small archaeological museum".

The ancient Etruscan tombs which honeycomb the countryside around Rome have been plundered for centuries.

But the systematic use of sophisticated metal detectors by modern tomb robbers has unearthed new hoards of treasure.

Most of this ends up not in museums, but in the hands of traffickers like the 74-year-old man arrested by police this week while he was delivering antiquities from illegal digs to his clients.

Police said he used to run an antiques stall in Rome's famous Sunday flea market.

Rare objects

Inside his home, they found more than 2,000 decorated terracotta vases from Etruscan and Roman tombs and thousands more pieces of mosaic and fragments of marble used to decorate ancient Roman houses.

Police also found rare objects made of copper and bronze, amphora used for transporting oil and wine, and terracotta lamps.

There is no treasure trove law in Italy which means that finders of antiquities have no incentive to hand over buried treasure to the state and prefer to sell it, even though this is illegal.

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