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Mexico demands return of the crown of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Modern reproduction of Moctezuma’s headdress, in the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City. Photo: Wikimedia Foundation

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has called for Austria to repatriate the artifact known as “el Penacho de Moctezuma.”

El Penacho de Moctezuma, or Moctezuma’s headdress, is a featherwork crown that tradition holds belonged to Moctezuma II, the Aztec emperor at the time of the Spanish conquest.

The headdress itself is made from green quetzal feathers and is sewn with gold detailing.  

In the 16th century, the famous headdress was taken to Europe as a war trophy of sorts and has resided in Vienna’s museum of ethnography since the early 19th century. 

The fact that the relic is still abroad remains a contentious issue.

“The Austrians have the penacho illegally, and what is worse, they have not even wanted to loan it to us for temporary display. This is extremely unjust and selfish,” said President López Obrador during one of his early morning press conferences earlier this week. 

Given the cultural and historical significance of this artifact, several Mexican governments have attempted to recover the feathered crown, but have ultimately been turned down. 

Earlier: The U.S. returns ancient artifacts illegally smuggled out of Mexico

The Austrian government has cited the difficulty of moving the famous headdress without damaging it as one of the reasons behind their refusal to return it to Mexico. 

But several Austrian lawmakers now argue that it is about time for their country to return the relic, as the technology surely exists to do it safely. 

This news has been welcomed by the Mexican government, though no plans for the repatriation of the artifact have been announced. 

The Lopez Obrador government said that during its tenure, over 6,000 Pre Columbian archaeological artifacts have already been returned to Mexico.

The diplomatic skirmish between Mexico and Austria comes at a time when controversy continues to grow around the auction of pre-Hispanic  artifacts abroad. 

Several of the pieces up for auction later this week in Paris are expected to reach prices in the tens of thousands of euros.

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