From early times but especially from the late 1960’s the site of Morgantina has been the scene of clandestine digging. Countless coins have been picked up by sharp-eyed visitors, and– once the metal detector came into widespread use in the 1970’s– several important coin hoards have also been found illegally. Morgantina is particularly rich in such buried “treasure”— objects of value that were buried by citizens for safekeeping during the Roman siege of the city in 211 BCE. While it is usually quite difficult to recover looted coins, the local magistrate Dr. Silvio Raffiotta did succeed in triggering the return to Sicily from Switzerland of an example of the largest and rarest coin minted at Morgantina, a silver tetradrachm of ca. 400 BCE (formerly in the Pennisi Collection, now in the coin cabinet of the Museo Paolo Orsi at Syracuse).
Over the years the U.S. project has attempted to track down specific non-numismatic finds that were looted at the site. In 2005 a terracotta lion antefix, removed clandestinely in 1967 from the Farmhouse Hill temple, was purchased at auction and returned to Sicily, thanks to the generosity of a friend of Morgantina.
More recently the rare acrolithic marble sculptures of Demeter and Kore, from the extramural S. Francesco Bisconti sanctuary, were returned to Sicily by the University of Virginia Art Museum. They had been looted ca. 1979 and subsequently sold in London to a New York collector, who in December 2002 agreed to give them to the University of Virginia, in a deal approved by the Italian authorities as the only way to recover the sculptures. The terms of the gift required that they be held for five years. In February 2008 they were returned to Sicily after a symposium held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The display of the acroliths in the Morgantina Museum, which has met with much praise, was influenced by the ideas of the Catania fashion designer Marella Ferrera.
In 2010 the Metropolitan Museum of Art repatriated the treasure of fifteen pieces of gilt silver that had been looted at Morgantina almost thirty years earlier. Instrumental in the return was the excavation by the U.S. project, acting as consultants to the Italian authorities, of the house where the silver had been found by the clandestini. Evidence was discovered confirming the looting of the house ca. 1980, just prior to the date of purchase by the New York museum. Consisting of several masterpieces of the silversmith’s art, the Morgantina treasure represents the only known surviving works by Syracusan artisans of the second half of the third century BCE, the acme of the city’s power and prosperity.
In the spring of 2011 the J. Paul Getty Museum repatriated the over life-size limestone sculpture of a goddess (ca. 420-410 BCE), removed clandestinely from a Morgantina sanctuary in the early 1980’s and purchased by the museum in 1988. Long the object of contention between Italy and the museum, the decision to return the sculpture was owed in good part to the identification of the limestone as coming from a formation in the area of Sicilian Ragusa. The head, arms, and feet goddess were of Parian marble; the veil and hair (of gilt bronze?) are missing, but the elaborately carved, windswept costume makes the work one of the most important in the generation following the completion of the Parthenon. The Morgantina Museum now remarkably possesses three examples of that rarest of Greek sculptural works, the cult statue that represented the very identity of the deity within the temple.