Greek police have recovered an ancient statue that was illegally excavated and hidden in a goat pen near Athens, and arrested the goat herder and another man who were allegedly trying to sell the work for €500,000 (£420,000).
The marble sculpture of a young woman dates to about 520BC and belongs to the kore type, a police statement said Wednesday. The 4ft work was largely intact, except for a missing left forearm and plinth.
Although dozens of examples of the kore statue and its male equivalent, the kouros, are displayed in Greek and foreign museums, the type is considered important in the development and understanding of Greek art. New discoveries in good condition are uncommon.
Archaeologists who inspected the find estimated its market value at €12m. A spokesman for Athens said: “They told us that this is a unique piece.”
Still bearing traces of soil, the statue has the hint of a smile on its lips, elaborately braided hair and an ankle-length gown.
Police said it had been concealed near the village of Fyli, in the foothills of Mount Parnitha on the north-western fringes of Athens. The goat herder, 40, and another Greek man, 56, have been arrested.
Detectives are seeking to determine where the statue was excavated, which could potentially lead archaeologists to a previously unknown ancientsanctuary or cemetery.
Archaeological remains of civilisations spanning thousands of years are spread across Greece. By law all antiquities are state property, but pillaging is a lucrative business.
The spokesman said the suspects had tried to contact potential buyers and “would have sold the work for a relative pittance”.
Two years ago, police in southern Greece recovered a pair of twin kouros statues and arrested two suspected looters.
Dozens of illegally exported finds have been returned to Greece in recent years, including works from the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.