A priceless Roman mosaic once used by Emperor Caligula to decorate a party ship was used for 50 years as a coffee table by an affluent couple in New York, a "60 Minutes" episode revealed on Sunday, Nov. 21.

The mosaic, made 2,000 years ago to adorn one of Caligula's party boats and which was thought to be lost after the Nazis burned what was left of the ships in an Italian museum in 1944, was accidentally found by marble expert Dario Del Bufalo during a lecture in New York about his book Porphyry in 2013, according to the New York Post.

"There was a lady with a young guy with a strange hat that came to the table," he said, describing the scene that unfolded. "And he told her, ‘What a beautiful book. Oh, Helen, look, that’s your mosaic.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, that’s my mosaic.’"

The party boats, which originally sank in a lake near Rome after Emperor Caligula was killed, was recovered from the lake in the 1930s with a large quantity of its antique materials and artifacts intact, including the mosaic.

The "Helen" in question was gallery owner Helen Fioratti, who said that she bought the mosaic in the 1960s from an unnamed Italian noble family. When the mosaic was brought to America, she said that she and her husband decided to turn it into a coffee table, the Guardian reported.

"It was an innocent purchase," she said. "It was our favorite thing and we had it for 45 years."

The Manhattan District Attorney determined that the mosaic was stolen during the Second World War when it was thought to be lost, and they seized the artifact to return to Italy, which displayed the mosaic in the Museum of the Roman Ships in March of this year.

Although Del Bufalo has expressed happiness at the return of the priceless artifact back to its home, he has shown remorse regarding the loss of the coffee table that Fioratti so innocently bought.

"I felt very sorry for her," he said. "But I couldn’t do anything different, knowing that my museum in Nemi is missing the best part that went through the centuries, through the war, through a fire, and then through an Italian art dealer, and finally could go back to the museum."

Del Bufalo wishes to give Fioratti a copy of the mosaic that she can put in her apartment to enjoy, though no concrete actions have been taken to make this happen.

Dario Del Bufalo accidentally found a priceless mosaic from one of Emperor Caligula's party ships in New York when he was lecturing about the subject in 2013. This is a representational image. Vanessa/Unsplash.com

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