Four ancient carved funerary stones are being looked after by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, after police recovered them from an east London shop.
Dating back to the second half of the first millennium BCE, the stelae come from a Yemen necropoli that has been subject to recent looting.
The stelae were first spotted by a concerned archaeology novice in an interior design store in east London. Following a police investigation, the seller disclaimed the objects and requested their return to Yemen. The artifacts were recovered by the city police’s art and antiquities unit.
In a historic agreement with Yemen, the V&A will temporarily research and conserve the stones until it is safe to return them. They will be on view at V&A East Storehouse as part of the show “Culture in Crisis” through 2025. On Tuesday, the agreement was signed by the V&A’s director Tristram Hunt and the ambassador for Yemen in the UK Yassin Saeed Noman.
“This is a historic agreement that will give the public the chance to appreciate these exceptional examples of Yemeni culture and creativity, before the objects are repatriated, and shine a light on how the V&A’s Culture in Crisis programme helps curtail the illegal trade of looted objects and the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide,” Hunt told the Guardian.
Given the ongoing Yemeni civil war, the stelae are of the kind that are on the International Council of Museum’s emergency red list of cultural objects at risk.