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Greece: A retired policeman and a house painter caught with ancient gold wreath, armband
A police woman displays the wreath of gold oak leaves and acorns, date from roughly the 4th Century B.C. in Thessaloniki on Friday June 8, 2012. A 60-year-old retired policeman and a 41-year-old painter _ were arrested late the previous night east of the city after the artifacts were found during a routine traffic check. AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis.

By: Costas Kantouris, Associated Press

THESSALONIKI (AP).- A retired policeman and a house painter have been arrested in northern Greece on suspicion of antiquities smuggling after an ancient gold wreath and armband were found in their car, police said Friday.

The suspects were stopped by highway police near the village of Asprovalta, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Thessaloniki late Thursday. Officers, who were working on a tip that the house painter might be trafficking in antiquities, found the 4th century B.C. artifacts in a shoebox under the passenger seat.

The wreath was a rare and valuable find, said Nikos Dimitriadis, head of the Thessaloniki police antiquities theft section.

"It is a product of an illegal excavation from a Macedonian grave, according to archaeologists (who examined it)," he said.

Antiquities in Greece are all state property by law. But smuggling is a major problem in the country, where relics of a rich ancient past often lie just inches beneath the surface.

Looting deprives archaeologists of valuable contextual information that would emerge from a proper excavation. Without such clues, finds — however impressive — are little more than pretty artifacts with a high commercial value.

The wreath, weighing in at nearly 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds), is decorated with gold oak leaves and acorns. The gold armband is in the form of two knotted snakes studded with red semi-precious stones.

Police said the 41-year-old house painter had been trying to sell the finds for several hundred thousand euros. They said he claimed to have received them from an acquaintance in his hometown of Komotini, nearly 300 kilometers (190 miles) east of Thessaloniki.

The precise location where the wreath and armband were found was not immediately clear.

Several golden wreaths have been found in Macedonia and Thrace, with the most impressive coming from royal tombs in Vergina, west of Thessaloniki, that have been linked with the family of the 4th century B.C. warrior king Alexander the Great.

An archaeologist who saw pictures of the wreath said it was a much plainer version than those from Vergina, and would likely have been buried with a rich Macedonian.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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