The marble idol, a smooth figure about nine inches high with its head tilted slightly upward, was exhibited for more than two decades in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It was probably created between 4800 and 4100 B.C.E in what is now Turkey’s Manisa Province. For years, its presence in New York appeared to draw little objection from its country of origin.
But that changed in 2017 when the idol, known as the Guennol Stargazer, was listed for sale by Christie’s. That year the Turkish government sued the auction house and the work’s owner, Michael Steinhardt. Citing the 1906 Ottoman Decree, which asserts broad ownership of antiquities found in Turkey, the government said the idol had been wrongfully removed from its territory and should be returned.
On Tuesday, Judge Alison J. Nathan of Federal District Court in Manhattan issued a written decision, citing evidence presented during a bench trial in April and ruling against Turkey.
“Although the Idol was undoubtedly manufactured in what is now modern-day Turkey, the Court cannot conclude based on the trial record that it was excavated from Turkey after 1906,” she wrote, adding that even if Turkey had established ownership it had “slept on its rights” and taken too long to make a claim.
In her decision Judge Nathan said the stargazer was notable for its “size and near-mint condition” and that it was “among the most exceptional examples” of its sort in existence.
There seemed to be scant question that the stargazer had originated in Anatolia, but Judge Nathan wrote that “where the Idol traveled to after its manufacture is more of a mystery,” adding that such items were probably traded or exchanged.
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