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Met to Return Ancient Statues to Cambodia

This statue and its companion, which date to around 921-45, are to be returned to Cambodia. (Image credit: Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Two life-size 10th-century statues that had been guarding the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Khmer collection for years are set to be repatriated to Cambodia apparently in light of new evidence supporting claims the ancient artworks were smuggled out of the country.

The Cambodian government had been seeking the return of the twin sculptures, known as the "Kneeling Attendants," which it believed had been looted from the Koh Ker temple complex around 1970.

The Met acquired the statues during the 1980s and 90s in parts — two torsos and a head from donor Douglas A. J. Latchford, and another head from Raymond G. and Milla Louise Handley.

The museum's director, Thomas P. Campbell, said in a statement Friday (May 3) that new information about the Kneeling Attendants had caused the Met to "consider facts that were not known at the time of the acquisition." When asked for more specific details about the new evidence, the Met declined to comment.

But last year, cultural heritage officials in Cambodia said they were compiling evidence that the sandstone pieces were among a group of sculptures taken when the country was destabilized by civil war, The New York Times reported at the time.

Latchford, a Bangkok-based British collector, is currently embroiled in a legal battle with federal authorities over another 10th-century Cambodian statue of a warrior, which investigators say was also taken from Koh Ker, an archaeological site about 75 miles away from Cambodia's more famous complex Angkor. Sotheby's was blocked from auctioning that statue for Latchford and lawsuit filed last year by the U.S. attorney sought the statue's return to Cambodia, according to the Los Angeles Times. That case remains ongoing.

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Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.