Back in 2007, Gina Giovannone was contacted by the U.S. Border Patrol to help identify an old manuscript written in Latin that was believed to have been stolen from a Jesuit library in Peru.
Acting on a lead, a customs officer had identified a man arriving in Houston who had history of possession of stolen artifacts and an extensive travel history to and from Peru. After a baggage inspection, the officer discovered an old book, which officials held to determine its value and origin.
“I have no idea why the Border Patrol called me, but it seems obvious that UT Libraries’ reputation surpasses all others,” says Giovannone, a classics library manager at The University of Texas at Austin. “We have a very learned faculty in the Classics Department who are used to examining old manuscripts for their research. They know an authentic one when they see it and can place a year via the writing and illustrations.”
Giovannone credits David Armstrong, professor emeritus of the Classics Department, with leading the efforts to identify the manuscript as genuine, mainly by examining the style of writing and unique illustrations.
Giovannone describes the classics faculty as “kids in a candy store” as they reviewed scans of the manuscript, identified the author and authenticated its age. With their help, Giovannone was able to confirm that indeed the book was not a copy.
“UT is one of the best academic research centers in the world. Apart from the expertise of the faculty, I have every resource available to me, whether in paper form or electronic,” Giovannone says. “I’ve worked in libraries for 22 years and know how to best utilize them. You do have to be a bit of a detective in this job.”
This spring, Giovannone received another call from Border Patrol and learned that the 18th century Peruvian manuscript had been returned to its rightful owners, the Jesuit library, the Recoleta Library in Araquipa, Peru.
“The Peruvian authorities were delighted to get their rare manuscript back,” Giovannone says.
According to a press release issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the man who stole it has since passed away, so no charges will be filed.