The US agrees to return 2 Thai relics that were illegally obtained and held in the San Francisco Asian Art Museum

San Francisco Asian Art Museum

Facade of the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center neighborhood of San Francisco, California, Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
  • Two lintels from ancient Thai religious temples will be returned to Thailand.

  • A Thai official discovered the lintels while visiting the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.

  • After seeing the lintels, he asked for the US to return the relics, sparking a three-year investigation.

  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Two Thai artifacts held at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco will be returned to Thailand after Thai officials discovered the pieces had been stolen from the country, according to the Department of Justice.

According to court filings, the consul general of the Royal Thai Consulate-General visited the Asian Art Museum in late 2016 when he noticed two prominently displayed Thai lintels. He asked a senior curator at the museum about the origins of the lintels and was told they were donated to the museum.

A lintel is a horizontal support structure placed above a window or door frame and can be seen in ancient religious temples in Thailand.

Nearly a year later in 2017, the Thai minister of culture met with a US official in Thailand along with a special agent of the US Department of Homeland Security. At the meeting, the minister of culture told the group Thailand’s Fine Arts Department researched the lintels on display and found they came from two ancient temples in Northeastern Thailand. He then relayed a message from the Thai government and asked that the artifacts be returned to the country.

thai lintel

One of the two Thai lintels that was at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and will be returned to Thailand. Department

According to court filings, Thailand has two patrimony laws from 1934 and 1961 restricting the removal of historically or culturally significant art from the country, including lintels. Thai researchers found that both lintels were removed from the country after these laws were passed and were therefore illegally exported from the country.

While investigating the lintels, the Thai researchers found they were donated to the US by a collector of Asian art and artifacts from Paris and London. Prosecutors allege the Asian Art Museum knew the lintels were stolen property as the museum had letters from the original collector indicating the lintels were not legally obtained.

Despite informing the Asian Arts Museum of its stolen artifacts several times, a federal complaint alleges the museum never attempted to negotiate a return of the artifacts until federal officials brought the issue to the local government of San Francisco, which also dragged its feet. The complaint further notes requests for the city to “adhere to a court-sanctioned process” were unsuccessful, leading the federal government to step in and negotiate the restoration process itself.

“The theft and trafficking of cultural artifacts is a tradition as old as the cultures they represent,” said Special Agent-in-Charge at the Department of Homeland Security Investigations Tatum King. “Returning a nation’s precious cultural antiquities promotes goodwill with foreign governments and citizens, while significantly protecting the world’s cultural history and knowledge of past civilizations.”

Both lintels will be returned to Thailand through the DOJ’s victim remission program where they will be placed on exhibition in Thailand, according to a press release from the DOJ.

Read the original article on Insider

Alice G. Collins

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