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Woman who bought stolen 2,000-year-old Roman bust from thrift shop speaks out: "The backstory of this head is nuts"

Hidden treasure found at Goodwill
Woman finds ancient bust at Texas Goodwill store 05:37

When Texas antiques dealer Laura Young goes thrifting, she keeps her head on a swivel — looking for household treasures for her and her clients. One day, as she was roaming around the aisles of a Goodwill store in Austin, she saw something sitting on a shelf that caught her eye.

The piece of art — an old marble sculpture of a man with a brooding look on his face — mesmerized Young, who immediately knew she was looking at something unique.

"There's a lifelikeness to the face," she told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.

Young would later learn that the $34.99 bust she bought in 2018 had a 2,000-year-old story behind it. Experts say the ancient artifact sitting in her home all these years was a priceless piece of stolen Roman art dating back to the late first century BC or early first century AD. 

The piece was part of the collection of King Ludwig I of Bavaria in Aschaffenburg, Germany.

"It's like a movie or something. The backstory of this head is nuts," Young said.

The story first made headlines in early May, when the San Antonio Museum of Art announced the bust would be on display there until next spring.

Young told Villafranca she knew the bust was special from the moment she first saw it and immediately asked someone to help her pick it up.

"I paid for it as quickly as humanly possible and had the same guy carry it out to the car for me," she said.

With the bust belted into her car, Young went home and started reaching out to experts. She sent pictures to academics and auction houses, trying to find out more about the stranger now sitting in her living room. A couple of days later, she heard back from Sotheby's Auction House, which identified the bust as previously being part of a German-owned state antiquities collection, Young said.

But how the sculpture ended up in Texas remains a mystery.

"I've never heard of any antiquities, any ancient Roman, Greek, Egyptian, anything like that coming from a thrift store, certainly not something as huge and obviously old as this," said Lynley McAlpine, a Roman art and provenance specialist at the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Experts believe an American soldier might have smuggled the bust back to the U.S. after the king's villa in Germany was bombed by Allied forces during World War II. 

"It couldn't be sold legitimately because it was known to have been stolen," McAlpine said.

"War looting is a crime, a war crime. And when you find something like this, you're not going to be able to sell it on the legitimate art market," she said.

Young would not discuss details or any compensation, but she is returning the bust back to the German government — after the centuries-old sculpture sits at the San Antonio Museum of Art for a few more months.  

"I had to drive down and see him in the museum," she said. "I got choked up just seeing other people see him and read the story. He was hidden in our house for almost four years and just seeing other people appreciate him was amazing."

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