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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 January 2007, 17:28 GMT
Mali relics recovered in France
Mali artefacts seized in Paris by customs officials (Pic: French customs-Francis Roche)
Some of the artefacts confiscated may be up to one million years old
French customs officials say they have seized more than 650 ancient artefacts smuggled from Mali in one of the largest such finds at a Paris airport.

Described as an "archaeological treasure", the objects were thought to be on their way to private US buyers.

Experts say most of the items are from the Neolithic period, but some may be up to one million years old.

The artefacts are thought to have been taken from archaeological sites on the edge of the Sahara desert.

The 669 items - 601 stones and 68 bracelets - were confiscated on 19 January at Charles de Gaulle airport and included axe heads, flintstones and stone rings.

Most of the artefacts date from a few thousand years BC. But others are from the Acheulean period, between one million years and 200,000 years old, and from the Middle Stone Age (200,000 years BC to 20,000 years BC).

The artefacts were shipped in nine parcels from the Malian capital, Bamako, which the accompanying paperwork described as handcrafted objects.

Customs officials look out for artefacts being exported from specific countries such as Mali which may be smuggled, a customs spokeswoman told the BBC News website.

If they have a doubt, they then seize the objects and have them assessed by experts to establish their age - in this case an expert from the Department of Prehistory at the Natural History Museum in Paris, she said.

Growing traffic

This type of traffic was unheard of a few years ago, an airport customs official told the AFP news agency.

"Since 2004 we have observed regular traffic in this kind of contraband. There is a big market and we are pretty sure that these items, which had been neatly sorted and were of very high quality, had been pre-sold," Eric Cailheton said.

French customs officials made two similarly large finds of archaeological items from Niger in March 2004 and December 2005.

The 2005 haul included more than 5,000 stone arrowheads and 90 carved stone artefacts, dating back 5,000 years.

The items were found in the baggage of a passenger who arrived on a flight from Niger's capital, Niamey.

French seize Niger artefacts
09 Apr 04 |  Europe
Mali: what price tourism?
16 Apr 01 |  Africa

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