Ancient Mayan Skull Carving Found in German Antique Shop Returned to Mexico

An ancient Maya relief sculpture that was identified in a German antique shop has been returned to Mexico via the Mexican consulate in Frankfurt on Tuesday. It’s believed that the artifact was looted from Mexico.

The relief carving depicts a profile of a skull. Experts believe the block relief would have been part of a wall, where similarly stacked carvings were intended to recall a Tzompantli (skull rack). Mesoamerican palisades were part of a ritual display of skulls belonging to sacrificial victims and prisoners of war.

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The artifact is thought to have been created during the Late Classic or Postclassical Mesoamerican periods between 750–1244 CE and it has similarities to objects from the famous Mayan city Chichén Itzá.

“The restitution of this archaeological piece is a sample of the work of the government of Mexico, and the success of the legal strategy of the foreign ministry’s legal team, in the identification and restitution of the patrimony of the country that is abroad, as well as the fight against the trafficking of cultural assets and international cooperation for the conservation of the historical past of nations,” a spokesperson for Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said in a statement.

As part of a larger campaign by the Mexican government to recover illegally trafficked and culturally significant artifacts, the country has seen the return of a 2,500-year-old Olmec statue, 65 pre-Hispanic artifacts, and a U-shaped stone trophy in the last year alone.

The INAH is currently in the process of building a new museum at Chichén Itzá to house such objects found at both the site and throughout the region.


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