Archeological looting in Mexico
Mayan death masks safeguarded by INAH – Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL

Archeological looting in Mexico

07/09/2019
10:15
Manuel Espino
Mexico City
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During the last decade, the FGR has seized over 600 archeological vestiges and historical monuments stolen by national and transnational criminal organizations

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United States, Spain, Germany, and Italy are the main international destinations of archeological vestiges and historical monuments stolen in Mexico by national and transnational criminal organizations.

During the last decade, from 2008 to 2018, Mexico’s Attorney General Office (FGR) seized at least 634 objects, among them ceramic and clay figurines, arrow points, stone artifacts, canvasses, and sculptures carved in wood, which are sold or auctioned in the global black market.
 

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According to statistics of the Special Unit for Environmental Offenses and Offenses Defined in Special Laws, in charge of the investigations of this issue, the biggest securing of archeological pieces and historical monuments took place in 2010, 2012, and 2014 in states like Jalisco, Tlaxcala, Mexico City, Nuevo León, Guanajuato, and Zacatecas.

The unit attached to the Assitant Attorney General for Special Investigations of Federal Crimes (SEIDF) has performed repatriation of these objects from the United States, Spain, Germany, and Italy, where it was detected that organized groups focused on this crime take the stolen pieces.

Criminal organizations focused on antiquity theft use courier companies for the deliveries, according to Mexico’s Federal Police.
 

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In 2012, authorities seized 256 pieces of stone, ceramic, and clay, as well as arrow points and metal figurines, belonging to Mayan, Olmec, Toltec, Mixtec, Teotihuacan, and Mexica pre-Hispanic cultures.

In 2010, they confiscated 198 little ceramic faces, clay figurines, winches, and sculptures carved in wood; while in 2014, they also seized canvasses.

Due to a lack of accurate information, the amount of pre-Hispanic artifacts stolen from archeological sites in the country is unknown, as well as the number of those who were taken out of Mexican territory by air and sea for their sale in the United States, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

Recent recoveries. Last April, the FBI gave back Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) two archeological pieces of Teotihuacan origin, a culture that settled in the center of the country during the Mesoamericanclassic period.
 

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“These efforts were made under the Mexico-U.S. Cooperation Agreement for the Recovery and Return of Stolen Archeological, Historical, and Cultural Property, signed on July 17, 1970,” as informed by the FBI through the U.S. embassy in Mexico.

Last year, after a legal process of almost 10 years in Germany’s courts, the Mexican government recovered two Olmec wooden busts of over 3,000 of antiquity, originally from the archeological site of “El Manatí,” in Veracruz.

The Olmec pieces were confiscated in 2008 from Leonardo Patterson by the Criminal Investigation Office of the German state of Bavaria, for which Mexico started the corresponding legal actions to achieve their recovery.
 

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Thus, within the trial to recover its property, Mexico had a favorable ruling in 2015, issued by the First Regional Court of Munich, which was appealed to no success, resulting in the devolution of the pieces in 2017.

Over 40% of archeological sites and historical monuments in Mexico have been victims of looting, according to records of INAH.

Stealing, commercializing, and removing archeological pieces and historical monuments out of the country is a federal crime punished with 5 to 12 years of prison, plus an economic fine, according to the Federal Law on Monuments and Archeological, Artistic, and Historical Sites.

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