Everyone loves a thrift store steal – you grab a designer jumper for a bargain, a bit of house décor maybe. While you can often expect a hefty discount, what you might not expect is a rare, 2,000-year-old archaeological artifact going for $34.99.
But that’s exactly what one woman from Texas found, after purchasing what she assumed was a Roman-inspired marble bust, but was actually a genuine Roman statue dating back thousands of years.
"I was just looking for anything that looked interesting," Laura Young, buyer of the bust, told CNN.
"It was a bargain at $35, there was no reason not to buy it.”
Young made the purchase in 2018 and it has sat in her living room ever since, with Young blissfully unaware of the incredible history and value of the piece. However, as an antiques enthusiast, Young had a hunch that the bust was valuable and various Google searches supported her hopes.
Eager to find out more about the mysterious bust, she contacted auction houses and experts for identification and valuation. Sotheby's, a large fine arts auction house in the US, was able to trace the bust back to the 1930s, when it was part of a Bavarian king’s collection in a scale model replica of a house in Pompeii, before being looted during World War Two. It was likely taken by a US soldier – looting mementos was common during the war – and taken to Texas, though that is not exactly an easy souvenir to take home.
It is thought the bust depicts a son of Pompey the Great, a famous Roman general that played a significant role in the transformation of Rome into an empire and an enemy of Julius Caesar, or Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus, a prominent Roman politician and commander in Germany, according to The New York Times.
“Immediately, I was like, ‘OK, I cannot keep him and I also cannot sell him,’” Ms. Young said, reports The New York Times.
It is unclear how much the bust is worth if it were to be sold, though similar busts can fetch tens of thousands of dollars at auction. However, Young has other, more honorable plans for it.
“It was extremely bittersweet, to say the least. But I only have control over what I can control, and art theft, looting during a war, is a war crime. I can’t be a party to it,” Young told the Times.
She struck a deal with Bavaria authorities to keep the bust in Texas for a year before it is shipped back to the region, with Young receiving a small finder’s fee. Now, it will have a temporary new home in the San Antonio Museum of Art before being returned to Germany in 2023.