NEW YORK, May 10 (AFP) - The United States returned two looted antiquities to China, the latest in a wave of repatriations of artefacts stolen from more than a dozen countries, New York authorities announced on Tuesday (May 9).

The two 7th-century stone carvings, currently valued at US$3.5 million, had been sawn off a tomb by thieves in the early 1990s and smuggled out of China, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

The carvings were among 89 antiquities from 10 different countries purchased by Shelby White, a private art collector in New York.

From 1998, they were "loaned" to the Metropolitan Museum of Art until they were seized this year by the District Attorney's Office following a criminal investigation.

"It is a shame that these two incredible antiquities were stolen and at least one remained largely hidden from the public view for nearly three decades," Bragg said.

"While their total value is more than US$3 million, the incredible detail and beauty of these pieces can never be truly captured by a price tag."

Collectively valued at nearly US$69 million, they were part of a criminal investigation by the city's Antiquities Trafficking Unit that tracks and repatriates looted artefacts.

One of the funerary carvings was kept in the museum's storage room and never displayed, according to the statement by Bragg's office.

It was never cleaned and caked in dirt, another telltale sign of their illicit origin, the statement added.

The carvings were handed over during a repatriation ceremony at the Chinese consulate in New York.

"We regard the crackdown on crimes against cultural property a sacred mission," Chinese Consul General Huang Ping was quoted as saying in the statement by the District Attorney's Office.

Since January 2022, more than 950 antiquities worth more than US$165 million have been returned to 19 countries, including Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Greece, Turkey and Italy.

In 2021, Michael Steinhardt, a private collector, returned about 180 stolen antiquities worth US$70 million following an out-of-court agreement, in one of the most famous cases of art trafficking in New York.