Flanders returns illegally excavated Celtic bracelets to Romania

On Monday evening, Flemish minister-president Jan Jambon (N-VA) returned three precious Celtic bracelets to Romania at the MAS Museum in Antwerp. The jewels had been illegally excavated and were to be auctioned in Monaco.

The story of the Celtic bracelets is a fascinating one. Although they were put up for sale in Monaco in 2020 as jewels 'found' in a ditch in Houtem, West Flanders, their appearance told a different story.

Two of the bracelets, dating from around 1000 BC, suddenly appeared at an auction house in Monaco in 2020. Estimated to be worth around 180,000 euros, they were to be the highlight of the sale. Until experts began to suspect something was amiss.

According to the owner at the time, the bracelets were discovered while dredging a ditch on a plot of land in Houtem. This was remarkable because similar jewellery had never been found this far west in Europe. The jewellery looked like bracelets traditionally made in the Eastern Carpathians in modern-day Romania.

I had the bracelets protected as masterpieces, which prevented them from being sold

To verify their provenance, the auction house was asked to cancel the sale pending further investigation. But the request was refused. "On the advice of the Top Pieces Council, I had the bracelets protected as masterpieces, which prevented them from being sold," said Jambon.

Flanders has had a list of masterpieces since 2003. A movable object or collection is considered a masterpiece if it is rare and indispensable for the Flemish Community because of its archaeological, historical, cultural-historical, artistic or scientific significance. None of the objects on the list can be sold without the consent of the Flemish government.


A judicial investigation revealed that the bracelets, including a third found on the owner, had been illegally dug up in Romania. The owner was said to have received them in exchange for an antique hunting rifle.

Flanders returned the jewellery to Romania on Monday evening, where further investigations are underway to determine where it came from.



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