Historic maps stolen from Spanish library recovered

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Precious maps stolen from Spain's National Library, including some by the Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy which were cut out of 15th- and 16th-century books, have been returned after police tracked them to locations on three continents.

Ten of 15 hand-penned maps stolen from the main reading room of the library were handed over to the Culture Ministry by the Interior minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who received them from Spanish police and Interpol.

A Spanish researcher, Cesar Gomez Rivero, is accused of cutting the maps out of manuscript books and selling them over a period of several years. He is in custody in Argentina, where he is being investigated, but he has not yet been brought to trial.

Some of the maps came from Ptolemy's 1482 book Cosmographia and Geographia, from 1507. Christopher Columbus is believed to have sailed with Ptolemy's maps when he discovered America in 1492.

Eight maps were recovered from Buenos Aires. Two others were found in New York and handed over to Spain's police chief in Washington on Thursday. Another is awaiting authorisation to be returned from Sydney. At least four from the 15th to 17th centuries are still missing.

The thefts led to the resignation in August of the library's director, Rosa Regas. The new director, Milagros del Corral, said a major audit would take place in January. "I can't discount that we'll find more unpleasant surprises," Ms Del Corral said.

Up until the mid-1980s, some of the oldest references available to researchers in the main reading room were not even alphabetically archived. In 1967, Leonardo da Vinci's Codexes Madrid I and II were found by chance after having been considered lost for 200 years.