Relics of 'incalculable' value stolen from Ancient Olympia

Second theft of Greek artefacts in a month as culture ministry struggles with austerity cuts

BY Tim Edwards LAST UPDATED AT 11:43 ON Fri 17 Feb 2012

THIEVES have stolen artefacts of "incalculable" value from a museum in Ancient Olympia – the second major robbery in a month to suggest that austerity cuts are putting Greece's cultural wealth at risk.

AFP reports that two masked armed robbers stole 68 exhibits from a museum dedicated to the Olympic Games of antiquity.

Thymios Kotzias, the mayor of Olympia, said: "There were two of them, and they had a gun. They immobilised the guard as the shift changed at 7am, having previously knocked out the alarm.

"We must wait and see what the local archaeology supervisor will say, but the items were of incalculable value."

The museum targeted is Ancient Olympia's second, smaller, museum, which is not guarded between 6-7am. Exhibits on show there include clay vessels and bronze discs used in the events, as well as bronze statues of athletes.

The theft is the second in a month of important cultural artefacts in Greece. In January, a painting given to the nation by the artist Picasso was stolen from the Athens National Gallery along with works by Mondrian and Moncalvo.

In that case, the museum was vulnerable due to lower staffing caused by a strike.

Greek culture minister Pavlos Geroulanos resigned today following the Ancient Olympia break-in, but it is unclear whether Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has accepted his offer.

Geroulanos's department, in common with other arms of government has been hit by swingeing cuts forced on Athens by creditors in return for a €130bn bailout. · 

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Greek press report that three 'guards' are employed, although the woman is not actually a security person. One guard was absent due to a funeral, and the second arrived for work two hours late. The female 'guard' arrived before the latecomer and turned off the alarms, whence the thieves pounced.
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