"Some 512 artefacts dating back to [the] second and third millennium BC[E], stolen and smuggled from Pakistan to France" have returned to Pakistan, the Foreign Office announced in a press release on Tuesday.
Customs agents at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport in 2006 had intercepted a parcel from Pakistan containing 17 terracotta pots addressed to a museum in the city, claiming they were more than 100 years old.
But an expert who examined them concluded they were artefacts dating back to the second or third millennium BC which had likely been stolen from burial sites in Balochistan.
Following an extensive investigation which lasted almost a year and involved a raid on the Paris gallery, investigators found a total of 445 items, some dating as far back as 4,000 BC, with an estimated value of $157,000.
Among the items were a series of beautifully-decorated pots, vases and jars, all painstakingly adorned with small, stylised motifs of animals, plants and trees.
There were also about 100 tiny ceramic figurines, as well as plates, bowls and goblets, all of which had been illegally shipped out of Pakistan for sale to dealers abroad.
“This is very, very important for us,” Abbas Sarwar Qureshi, head of the chancery at the Pakistani embassy where France's top customs official attended a formal handover ceremony, had said.
“Some of the items are 6,000 years old from the Mehrgarh civilisation,” he had told AFP, referring to an era that predates the Indus Valley civilisation which flourished around 3,000 BCE before mysteriously disappearing.
The Foreign Office stated that Pakistan’s Deputy Head of Mission Muhammad Amjad Aziz Qazi had thanked the Government of France, especially French Customs, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Culture for their support and cooperation in completing the formalities for the restitution of the artefacts.