Stolen copies of two of the earliest printed books, taken from Krakow's Jagiellonian University and recovered in London, have been returned to Poland by the police.
The Comoediae of Plautus (Venice 1472) and Cardinal Bessarion's Adversus Calumniatorem Platonis (Rome 1469) were identified as the stolen copies by means of bacterial "finger-printing". The microflora on the pages of old books are specific to the library in which they have been kept.
According to Krzystof Zamorski, director of the Jagiellonian Library, the books have survived their travels in "good condition", and will now go for further forensic examination in the hope of discovering how they reached London.
Few details have been released, either about the theft or the recovery of the books. It is understood, however, that the Plautus was put up for auction in a London sale-room in June 2001 and, when Scotland Yard intervened, the vendor agreed to return it to the Jagiellonian University "unconditionally".
The Bessarion is said to have been spotted by chance in a London antiques shop in December 2000 by a team from the Polish procurators' service, who were in London on the trail of another early book - Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius .