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Germany returns antiquities to Mexico

Sean Sinico
January 17, 2020

A trio of ancient clay artifacts was returned from Germany to Mexico, officials have said. The step comes amid an increase in international repatriation of cultural antiquities.

A Mexican flag
Image: Getty Images

Three centuries-old sculptures privately held by a woman in Germany were voluntarily returned to Mexico, officials said Thursday.

The pre-Columbian clay artifacts each feature sculpted faces and came from ancient cultures in the present-day states of Oaxaca and Campeche, and the Gulf coast.

Mexico, Peru and other Latin American countries with rich cultural heritages that include finely crafted relics have stepped up efforts to promote the return of objects tied to their national pride and identity.

An unnamed German woman had held the objects for decades and approached the Mexican Embassy in Berlin to turn them over in November, said Alejandro Bautista of Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH).

He said it was unclear how the woman obtained the three artifacts, which were given to Mexico's Foreign Ministry earlier this month. The pieces will be further analyzed and could eventually be exhibited to the public.

Read more: How environmentally sustainable are Germany's museums?

The oldest of the three objects, thought to have been used as a ceremonial urn to burn incense and dating back more than 1,500 years, has been identified as coming from Mexico's Zapotec culture, whose hilltop capital of Monte Alban is a popular tourist destination.

Over the last year, Mexico has recovered more than 60 archeological artifacts from the United States, Australia and now Germany, according to INAH.

"Thanks to the efforts of the Mexican Embassy in Germany, the pieces were delivered voluntarily without the need for legal action," INAH said in a statement. "The government of Mexico reaffirms its commitment to the recovery of our cultural heritage abroad."

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