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ROME (Reuters) - The head of an ancient Roman statue that could be of the mother of Emperor Nero has been recovered after being missing for decades, Italian police said on Thursday.
The funerary piece was stolen between 25 and 30 years ago from Pompeii, a Roman town that was buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD and is now one of Italy's most famous ancient sites.
"It is impossible to estimate its value in monetary terms, but it is of notable cultural and historical interest," Captain Rocco Papaleo, who led the investigation told Reuters.
The statue dates from between 100 B.C and 50 A.D when Rome was at its most powerful as the capital of a world empire and was found after an investigation into the art market by the military police of Piacenza in northern Italy.
The Department of Culture and Archaeology in Parma have judged it to be of "enormous interest" and likely to be of Agrippina the Younger, according to police, who said they did not know ther whereabouts of the body of the statue.
The Roman empress was one of the most prominent women of her time and the mother of Nero, an emperor famed for brutality. Some historical accounts say that Nero had his powerful mother killed.
Police said the terracotta head had been hidden for years by a dentist in Parma, who had tried to sell it but couldn't because it was too conspicuous as a stolen work.
The head was recovered after the 62-year-old tried to sell it through an antiques dealer from Piacenza aged 36, who accidentally alerted police as he tried to find a buyer. Both are now charged with receipt and possession of archaeological goods.
Italy has long struggled to protect its wealth of archaeological sites from opportunistic thieves and amateur tomb raiders called 'tombaroli', who feed a vast international market in looted artefacts estimated by the FBI to cause as much as $6 billion in losses each year.
Reporting By Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle