After a three-year investigation by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), two hand-carved lintels from ancient temples in Thailand were returned to the Thai government during a joyous ceremony including dancers and prayers at the Royal Thai Consulate-General in Los Angeles.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. With a workforce of over 10,000 employees, HSI has Special Agents across the United States and in 53 countries. This presence abroad is “one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.” HSI’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Smuggling arm has, since 2007, returned more than 11,000 artifacts to over 30 countries.
The lintels are religious artifacts made of sandstone in the 9th and 10th centuries and are identified as being from the Nong Hong Temple and the Khao Lon Temple in northeastern Thailand – both protected sites. The sandstone lintels weigh about 1,500 pounds each. They were exported from Thailand more than 50 years ago, allegedly in violation of Thai law. They were donated to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
In 2016, the Thai consul general saw the lintels displayed at the museum and asked to have them returned to Thailand. HSI negotiated their return for close to four years. The full provenance is not clear, but the lintels, donated to the museum, are valued at approximately $700,000.
Acknowledging that there is a continuing black market in Thai artifacts, the Thai ambassador to the U.S., Manasvi Srisodapol, hoped that the publicity surrounding the return would raise public awareness and help to stem the removal of cultural patrimony. Ambassador Srisodapol called the repatriation ceremony the beginning of the lintels’ “sacred journey back home.”