Thieves stole two pre-Columbian gold artifacts valued at more than $2000 from the Peabody Museum of Archaelogy and Ethnology last week, officials disclosed yesterday.
The items--a pre-Columbian gold greave and cuff from Panama--were taken on Wednesday night or Thursday morning by two men who fled the building when they were discovered by a security guard, Garth L. Bawden, assistant director of the Peabody, said.
Gordon R. Willey, Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and curator of Middle American Archaeology, said the artifacts could be melted down and their gold sold for several thousand dollars, but they are "irreplaceable" artistically.
Willey said the two items, which were on exhibit in the first-floor "Masterpieces of the Peabody" display, probably weighed only a few ounces, but had a very high gold content, probably more than 90 per cent.
A gold disc of indeterminate worth in the same exhibit--with a 97 per cent gold content--was left behind, apparently because the thieves were unable to completely remove a panel enclosing the display, Bawden said.
Bawden said a security guard, whose name he did not know, saw two people running out of the building after they apparently attempted to break into another exhibit containing gold artifacts from Central America, this one located on the third floor. The theft on the first floor was not discovered until after the persons had fled, he added.
Though other more valuable items--like those in the third-floor exhibit--are insured, the ones stolen are not, Bawden said.
Saul L. Chafin, chief of University police, declined to comment on the incident yesterday, and C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky, director of the Peabody, was unavailable for comment.
Chafin did say that police would study what further measures could be taken to improve security at the Peabody. The alleged thieves did not penetrate far enough into the third-floor exhibit to set off an internal alarm, Bawden said, adding that the museum had since removed these items and placed them in a safe.
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The two items were approximately 1000-15000 years old, Willey said. The greave, made of hammered gold to be worn on the leg, is 16 centimeters long and nine centimeters in diameter. The dimensions of the cuff were not available.
Bawden said the museum would "improve security as fast as we can," but admitted that because of financial difficulties, "all we can do now is take the most valuable pieces off display and lock them away.