2006_04_22_dionhead.jpg Hot on the heels of the Met returning the fabled Euphronios krater to Italy the NYPD and Christies have returned the head of Bacchus to the Mediterranean boot-state.

And what an interesting past two decades the head of the god of wine has had! Dating back to the first century it used to be part of a sculpture that lived in a 19-th century villa belonging to Mussolini. In 1983, looters removed it from its body and seem to have sold it to an unidentified Japanese Museum which quickly went out of business.

The head then appeared in the Christie's catalog. Kate Swan, a spokeswoman for Christie's, said the marble head was consigned to the auction house in September 2002 and was scheduled to be sold on Dec. 12, 2002. It was estimated to bring between $15,000 and $20,000. Ms. Swan said Christie's had a policy of not identifying consigners.

Before the sale Christie's received information that the item might have been stolen, and it was withdrawn, she said. Christie's then contacted the police, who began a long inquiry. After they alerted Rome, the carabinieri checked their roster of stolen items and made a match.

"This was a case where the system worked," Ms. Swan said.

We really liked this story, actually. Sometimes cases involving antiquities can get a little messy, but this one seems really straightforward. Well, except for the whole part where the NYPD still can't figure out who the actual looters were - though come to think of it, shouldn't that be the carabinieri's job?

Photo of the head in question by Martina Cristofani for the European Pressphoto Agency.