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Rare 16th Century Astronomical Device Returned After Years Spent Missing

Aug 20, 2013 04:29 PM EDT

After more than a decade spent missing, a rare 16th century device called an astrolabe is being returned to the Swedish museum it was stolen from.

Dating back to 1590, the intricate object was stolen in 1999 as part of a series of thefts that took place at Skokloster Castle, located north of Stockholm.

The object is now being turned in by an unnamed Italian collector after discovering it was listed as missing. How it ended up in the collector's hands is not entirely clear though, says Bengt Kylsberg, the astrolabe's rightful owner, he is "just happy to get the piece back" and does not plan on pressing charges, according to the Associated Press.

The object is being personally handed over by Christopher Marinello, the lawyer at London's Art Loss Register credited with finding it.

"Usually I'm recovering stolen paintings by Matisse or Picasso -- and those are a lot sexier," he told Sweden's The Local. Though, he admitted, the object is "really fascinating and so ornate. It's amazing to think that you can still use it to tell time or to write an astrological map of the stars."

Astrolabes date back to ancient Greece and were used as late as 1650, at which point they were replaced by more specialized instruments. Among the device's many abilities is that of determining the time of sunrise and sunset as well as locating celestial bodies.

"Before telescopes, the astrolabe was the way you could say: 'What time does the sun rise? When will it set?'" German scholar Petra Schmidl of Bonn University told the AP, adding that while modern clocks are highly accurate, they leave one's understanding of time "stripped from its astronomical origins."

In all, fewer than 2,000 astrolabes survive today.

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