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The heads of Neolithic figurines dating back more than 7,000 years are part of a stolen collection returned to Greece from Germany. ((Greek Culture Ministry/Associated Press))

A group of Neolithic figurines stolen in Greece in 1985 and smuggled to Germany, then forgotten for 20 years, went on display in Athens on Tuesday.

Private collectorConstantinos Theodoropoulos, who lost more than 160 artifacts inthe 1985armed robbery in Larissa, central Greece,has agreed to give the recovered artifacts to the state.

More than 60 artifacts are still missing, he said.

The 94 recovered artifacts include small statuettes, tiny vases and tools dating from 6,500 to 4,500 BC.

Some are very early human portraits. All come from the Thessaly region, where excavations have uncovered settlements from the Neolithic period, the end of the Stone Age, just before metal tools were developed.

"The artwork appears primitive, but is very expressive," said Nikos Kaltsas, director of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

"The statuettes of women … with their complex hairdos, the differences in facial characteristics and expressions, indicate that these are portraits of real people."

Kaltsas said the artifacts, which are up to 13 centimetres tall, "date to the dawn of human awareness."

Artifacts recovered in 1986, forgotten

German police in Munich recovered the artifacts in 1986, after the thieves tried to sell them to a local museum and museum officials tipped off the police.

However, the artifacts were forgotten until Greek authorities launched a legal bid for their return six months ago.

AGerman court ruled in August that the artifacts should be returned to Greece.

"The case had been put on the back burner," said Culture Minister Michalis Liapis, without explaining the delay.

"We are very happy to get them back, as we consider antiquities theft a global scourge."

The artifacts will be exhibited in Athens before being transferred to a museum in Larissa, where they will be displayed in a collection of some 2,500 Neolithic artifacts that belonged to Theodoropoulos.

With files from the Associated Press