Image: Ancient urn returns to Greece
Thanassis Stavrakis  /  AP
A 2,400-year-old funerary urn is displayed at the archeological museum of Athens on Monday after it was returned to Greece from Basel, Switzerland.
updated 4/21/2008 3:41:10 PM ET 2008-04-21T19:41:10

A 2,400-year-old funerary urn has been returned to Greece and put on display, part of a campaign to reclaim illegally exported antiquities from museums and art dealers around the world.

The marble urn was displayed Monday at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Greece has mounted an aggressive campaign for the return of ancient artifacts as part of an effort to recover the Parthenon sculptures — or Elgin Marbles — from the British Museum in London.

"We are making every effort to locate antiquities that have been illegally exported so that we can secure their return," Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said at a brief ceremony.

The marble urn, believed to have originated from near Athens, depicts two women in a banquet scene. The vessel was first located at an international arts fair in Maastrict, The Netherlands, last year, and traced to a Swiss dealer, the Greek Culture Ministry said.

"The Swiss antiquities dealer agreed to hand over the urn to the Greek state, without involving court proceedings and without any reservations or conditions," a ministry statement said.

Earlier this month, parliament approved a bill to toughen penalties against antiquity smugglers. The law grants prosecutors greater powers in seeking the extradition of smugglers, categorizes some smuggling activity as organized crime and provides for closer cooperation between police and the Culture Ministry.

"This issue does not only affect Greece but all the countries that have cultural heritage," Liapis said Monday. "(Antiquities) are slowly being returned under a policy that is heading toward an important national issue: the return of the Parthenon Marbles."

The British Museum has said it will only consider a short-term loan and will not necessarily involve its entire Parthenon collection.

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