V&A to display treasures from Yemen found in London interior design shop

A group of four ancient funerary stelae from the Republic of Yemen  (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
A group of four ancient funerary stelae from the Republic of Yemen (© Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

The V&A has signed a historic deal with the government of Yemen to temporarily keep and show four ancient gravestones seized by police in east London and thought to have been looted from the country.

The objects, believed to date from the second half of the first millennium BCE, were spotted in an interior design shop by an archaeology enthusiast and recovered by the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit.

Works are usually transferred back to their country of origin as soon as possible but the Museum will now be able to display the rare artefacts at its V&A Storehouse in Stratford when it opens in 2025 before they are sent back.

V&A director Dr Tristram Hunt said: “We are delighted to collaborate with the Republic of Yemen’s Embassy in the UK and The Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit to store, research and display these four incredible ancient carved funerary stelae.

“This is an historic agreement that will give the public the chance to appreciate these exceptional examples of Yemeni culture and creativity, before the objects are repatriated, and shine a light on how the V&A’s Culture in Crisis programme helps curtail the illegal trade of looted objects and the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide.”

Commander Stephen Clayman, Central Specialist Crime, Metropolitan Police, said their investigation established the artefacts came from tombs “that have been subjected to looting in recent years”.

He added: “When the seller was given this information they made the generous decision to disclaim them, and asked for them to be returned to Yemen.

“I am pleased that we have been able to achieve this today. I hope that when these pieces go on display at V&A East Storehouse, they may encourage people to consider antiquities from a legal perspective as well as an aesthetic one.

“By establishing an artefact’s provenance before purchase they may avoid inadvertently fuelling the demand for stolen cultural goods. The Art and Antiques Unit would like to thank everyone who contributed to the investigation and this positive outcome.”