On Tuesday, a huge horde of ancient Celtic gold coins was stolen from the Celtic and Roman Museum in Manching, Germany, according to Bavarian State Police. Authorities estimate the value of the coins, which together weighed about 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds), to be above 1 million dollars.
"The loss of the Celtic treasure is a disaster," explained Bavaria’s Minister of Science and Arts Markus Blume to the German news agency dpa. "As a testament to our history, the gold coins are irreplaceable."
The 483 coins were first found in 1999 in the ancient Celtic settlement known as the Oppidum of Manching. Archaeologists quickly came to realize how sensational the discovery was: the coins represent the largest Celtic gold find of the 20th century. The trove is also the subject of continuing scholarly research on Celtic trade networks.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the circumstances of the heist were straight out of a Hollywood movie. In order to avoid triggering the alarm, the thieves cut telecommunications cables which caused internet and telephone outages throughout Manching.
The heist reportedly lasted only 9 minutes.
"The museum is actually a high-security location. But all connections to the police were severed," explained Manching Mayor Herbert Nerb to the Bavarian newspaper. "Professionals were at work here."
Police are appealing for witnesses who might have seen suspicious individuals near the museum or have other information that could lead to the recovery of the treasure.
Rupert Gebhard, who heads the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, estimated the value of the treasure at about 1.6 million euros ($1.65 million). "The archaeologists hope that the coins remain in their original state and reappear again at some point," he said, adding that they are well documented and would be hard to sell.
"The worst option, the melting down, would mean a total loss for us," he explained, noting that the material value of the gold itself would only run to about 250,000 euros at current market prices.
The Manching theft is only the latest in a series of museum heists which have plagued Germany in recent years.
In November of 2019, thieves raided Dresden's Green Vault, one of Europe's greatest collections of treasures. The estimated value of jewels stolen during that heist is north of 100 million dollars. Six Germans accused of involvement in the heist went on trial in January of this year.
Before that, in March of 2017, the "Big Maple Leaf," a gold coin regarded as the second-largest in the world, was stolen from Berlin's Bode Museum.
Authorities haven't been able to recover items stolen from either heist.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.