LOMBARD, Ill. - They’re not just any regular coins.
And now, they’re headed back home to Greece after being seized coming into an O’Hare Airport cargo facility.
The tiny coins may not look all that impressive. Some are smaller than a shirt button. But the 21 Greek coins date back to the time before Christ. Some of them are 2,500 years old.
"This is a very big deal," said Sean Fitzgerald, Director of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). "This is the largest repatriation of Greek coins in recent history for Homeland Security Investigations."
The coins were likely stolen or looted from Greece years ago and only recently showed up in two separate packages coming into Chicago's O’Hare.
"These coins were found at the DHL cargo facility out at O’Hare," said Paige Williamson, HSI Agent. "They were coming from Austria, and they were going to private individuals here in the U.S."
On Wednesday, during a ceremony at the HSI office in west suburban Lombard, the ancient coins were turned over to the Greek consul general of Chicago, who says they’ll be headed to Athens in a matter of days.
"Greece has a huge culture," said Emmanuel Koubarakis of the consul. "Our contribution to western civilization, and all these items should come back to the motherland."
Repatriating ancient artifacts is not as unusual as you might think. Since 2007, HSI has seized and returned over 20,000 antiquities and pieces of art to more than 40 countries.
"This is really a theft and a pillaging of cultural heritage," Fitzgerald said. "These countries, they want our help, and they need our help to bring back their history for them."
The Greek consul said the coins are clearly very rare and very valuable, and will likely wind up in a museum when they land back home.