Twenty-two historic artifacts that were looted following the Battle of Okinawa in World War II have been returned to Japan after a family from Massachusetts discovered them in their late father’s personal items in an attic, the FBI said Friday.

The collection included six painted scrolls from the 18th and 19th centuries, a hand-drawn map of Okinawa dating back to the 19th century, and various pieces of pottery and ceramics, according to the FBI Boston Field Office.

A typewritten letter detailed the collection process and confirmed they were looted during the last days of World War II. The artifacts had been considered missing for over 80 years.

In 2001, the Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education registered some of the artifacts with the FBI’s National Stolen Art File, a database of art and cultural property that have been reported stolen to the FBI by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

The artifacts were found by the family while sorting through the belongings of their deceased father in an attic. He was a World War II veteran, although never served in the Pacific Theater. They later contacted authorities after researching the items and determining some of them were in the National Stolen Art File.

“This is what makes a culture. And without it, you’re taking away their history,” FBI Boston Special Agent and art crime coordinator Geoffrey Kelly said. “It’s really important for us as stewards of artifacts and cultural patrimony to make every effort that we can to see that these go back to the civilizations and the cultures in the countries where they belong.”

The FBI was able to authenticate the artworks and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Asian Art examined the artifacts to ensure they were properly packed before their return to Japan.

“This case highlights the important role the public plays in recognizing and reporting possible stolen art. We’d like to thank the family from Massachusetts who did the right thing in reaching out to us and relinquishing these treasures so we could return them to the people of Okinawa,” Jodi Cohen, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in a statement.


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