ATHENS (AP).- Greek police recovered an ancient statue that was illegally excavated and hidden in a goat pen near Athens, and arrested the goat herder and another man who were allegedly trying to sell the work for 500,000 ($667,000).
The marble statue of a young woman dates to about 520 B.C. and belongs to the kore type, a police statement said Wednesday. Police photos showed the 1.2-meter (4-foot) work to be largely intact, lacking the left forearm and plinth.
Although dozens of examples of the kore statue and its male equivalent, the kouros, are displayed in Greek and foreign museums, the type is considered very important in the development and understanding of Greek art. New discoveries in good condition are uncommon.
Archaeologists who inspected the find estimated its market value at 12 million ($16 million), a police official said.
"They told us that this is a unique piece," the official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to the speak to the media since the investigation is still ongoing.
Still bearing traces of soil, the statue has the hint of a smile on its lips, elaborately braided hair and an ankle-length gown.
Police said it had been concealed in a goat pen near the village of Fyli, in the foothills of Mount Parnitha on the northwestern fringes of Athens. The 40-year-old goat herder and another Greek man aged 56 were arrested.
Detectives are seeking to determine where the statue was excavated, which could potentially lead archaeologists to a previously unknown 6th century B.C. sanctuary or cemetery.
The archaeological remains of civilizations stretching back thousands of years are spread all over Greece. By law, all antiquities are state property. But pillaging is a highly lucrative business.
The police official said the suspects arrested Tuesday had put out feelers to potential buyers in Greece, and "would have sold it for a relative pittance, 500,000, given its market value."
In another major success two years ago, police in southern Greece recovered a pair of twin kouros statues, and arrested two suspected looters.
Dozens of illegally exported finds have been returned to Greece over the past few years, including masterpieces from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
(This version corrects grammatical error in headline.)
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.