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U.S. returns 2 pre-Hispanic artifacts to Mexico

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Two clay artifacts were returned to Mexican territory by the U.S. Photo: Courtesy

The United States returned two stolen archaeological pieces to Mexico’s Ministry of Culture.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, through the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, presented the pre-Hispanic pieces to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

The two repatriated clay pieces originate from a Mexican archaeological site and are an important part of Mexico’s cultural heritage, INAH said Tuesday.

The artifacts were among thousands ranging from arrowheads to shrunken heads that U.S. federal agents removed in a 2014 raid at an Indiana farm. The farm’s owner, Don Miller, amassed the 42,000-artifact collection over several decades. He died in 2015 at age 91.

Miller spent his life traveling the world, participating in archeological digs in the 1960s and 1970s, and displaying his rare finds in his basement.

Miller was cooperating with the FBI before he died, and was never prosecuted.

About 7,000 pieces in the collection were determined to have been illegally taken from countries including China, Canada, Iraq, Peru and Mexico. The FBI says other artifacts have been returned to several countries.

The pieces returned to Mexico are in keeping with the Teotihuacan style, associated with the indigenous cultures that settled in the Central Plain of Mexico during the Mesoamerican Classic Period (200-700 AD). Exactly where and when Miller found them is unclear, which is frustrating to historians.

“When artifacts are illicitly removed from their places of origin, we lose meaningful information about the study of the past. And once that context is destroyed, there is no recovering it,” said Mexican foreign ministry lawyer Sergio Estrada.

These efforts were made under the Treaty of Mexico-US Cooperation for the Recovery and Return of Stolen Archaeological, Historical and Cultural Assets, which was signed in 1970.

Ancient and historical monuments, objects and archaeological sites of the world enrich and inform the societies of today, and help people connect with the cultural origins, INAH said.

The FBI is pleased to return these items, as part of its ongoing commitment to locate and return cultural heritage items worldwide and ensure they are safe and available for future generations, U.S. officials said.

About 800 Mexican artifacts were reportedly seized in the U.S. last year.

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