ROME (Reuters) - An ancient terracotta rendering of the head of Hades, god of the underworld, with a trace of blue in his curly beard is on its way back to Italy decades after being dug up illegally.
The more than 2,000-year-old statue, dubbed "Bluebeard", came from one of numerous ancient sites in Italy that were illegally excavated in the late 1970s, before being sold abroad.
The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles acquired the sculpture in 1985, and decided to return it after similar fragments were found at a shrine in central Sicily.
The museum said on Thursday it had decided to repatriate Bluebeard three years ago, but had kept the statue in storage until Sicilian officials arrived to pick it up this week.
Getty museum officials and Sicilian researchers worked together to ascertain where the head came from. Curls of its hair had been found in a shrine to ancient Greek harvest goddess Demeter.
The head is due in Italy on Friday and will be sent to the Aidone museum to which the Getty has already returned the "Cult Statue of a Goddess", known in Italy as the "Morgantina Venus".
Italy's archaeological venues have been plundered so extensively that the country set up a police corps dedicated to tracking down treasures which are dug up and smuggled abroad.
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)