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December 16, 2016

A French court found a museum worker guilty of selling hundreds of fossils and artifacts from the Neolithic period on eBay.

The staffer at the Museum of Natural History in Orléans had stolen hundreds of artifacts from the museum while it was under renovation. Most of the 666 objects came from a collection on Mauritania that was donated in 1983, Agence-France Presse reported.

Authorities discovered the scheme after one of his buyers attempted to validate the authenticity of one of the objects—all of which were sold for 10-20 euros, or about $10.50-$21.00. When police searched his home, they found hundreds of the stolen objects, according to the same report.

The court handed down a suspended three-month prison sentence as well as a symbolic fine of one euro. The museum had asked for 10,000 euros ($10,400) in damages.

The thief, who had served as a civil servant for nearly thirty years, said he started the scheme following a divorce in 2013, after which his financial situation became more precarious.

“In 2013, I had to start again from nothing. My financial situation had become catastrophic. I could not longer face my debts. I was panicked by the idea of finding myself living on the street and no longer being able to see my children. I lost my head,” he said, a local newspaper reported.

The trial in France isn’t the first time that stolen museum artifacts have been sold illegally online or on the black market. Ancient items, often taken from looted museums in war-torn Syria and Iraq have frequently shown up in illegal auctions.

Accounts differ as to whether the terror organization known as the Islamic State group is selling these artifacts, or whether other forces in the region are participating in the looting, the New Yorker reported.

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