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

US Homeland Security Investigations returned 277 pre-Columbian objects to the Mexican consulate in Nogales, Arizona, in a repatriation ceremony on Tuesday. Photo: INAH
US Homeland Security Investigations returned 277 pre-Columbian objects to the Mexican consulate in Nogales, Arizona, in a repatriation ceremony on Tuesday. Photo: INAH

The United States government this week returned more than 270 pre-Columbian archaeological pieces to Mexico.

The artifacts were returned to Mexico “in a spirit of respect for the countries’ national sovereignty and cultural heritage,” said the Mexican government in an official statement. 

The pieces were seized by authorities in the United States during two separate artifact-smuggling investigations. 

The first, and larger, group of 267 items was confiscated by Customs and Border Patrol in October 2012 from two Mexican citizens who entered the US at Nogales. The collection of arrowheads, tools and small stone carvings are dated as between 1,000 and 5,000 years old and worth around US$124,000.

Then, in October 2013, the Chandler Historical Society reported that a group of 10 shaft tomb ceramic figures were at Arizona’s Chandler Museum in the Phoenix suburbs. The items determined to be more than 1,500 years old and worth between $26,100 and $45,700.

“The repatriation of these artifacts is an example of the daily and coordinated work carried out by the institutions of the Mexican and American governments,” said Secretary of Culture Alejandra Fausto Guerrero. 

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The artifacts are being safeguarded and cataloged by Mexico’s National Institute for History and Anthropology in Mexico City.

The return of the artifacts to Mexico is in accordance with an international treaty, signed over 50 years ago, that intends to combat the traffic of antiques and return these objects to their countries of origin. 

“The government of the United States will continue to collaborate with all agencies across borders, in keeping with its commitment to stop the theft and trafficking of cultural heritage,” said the U.S consul general in Nogales, Sonora. 

The legal antiquities trade has been much more careful in recent years about establishing the provenance and legal status of cultural artifacts. Some estimates put annual turnover in billions of US dollars.

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.