This handout picture released on December 6, 2012 by the Guardia di Finanzia police of Rome shows an Egyptian Sphinx statue seized the day before. The 120 centimeters statue dated from the Plolemaic era had been stolen in a necropolis in Viterbo, near Rome. -AFP Photo

ROME: Italian police on Thursday said they had recovered a 2,000-year-old Egyptian sphinx statue that was stolen from a necropolis near Rome and was about to be smuggled out of the country.

“The investigation began with a random check of an industrial vehicle during which police found a decorative ceramic object from an excavation as well as many photos of the Egyptian sculpture,” the police said in a statement.

A search of the driver's residence turned up the statue from the Ptolemaic era (4th-1st centuries BC) packed into a crate and hidden in a greenhouse.

The statue is believed to have been stolen from the Etruscan necropolis of Montem Rossulum near Viterbo, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Rome.

The police “prevented the sculpture, as well as a series of ancient objects from being put on the clandestine international market,” the statement said.

The granite statue measures 120 centimetres and 60 centimetres.

Egyptian sculptures began to be shipped to Italy following the Roman conquest of Egypt in the 1st century BC.

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