More Than 200 Artifacts, Some Dating to 900 BCE, Returned to Mexico by US

Some 281 Mexican artifacts seized by US customs agents, including Olmec figures and ceramics dating to 900 BCE, agents have been returned to Mexico. The handover ceremony was held in Memphis, Texas, and attended by US Customs and Border Protection officers, Homeland Security Investigation special agents, and the Mexico Ambassador Carlos Giralt-Cabrales.

“On behalf of the US Customs and Border Protection, I am honored to return these priceless national treasures to the government and citizens of Mexico,” Michael Neipert, Memphis area port director, said in a statement. 

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According to a news release from custom officials, the objects were sent from Mexico in nine shipments between 2016 and 2021, with destinations in California, South Carolina, and Florida. Among the precious cargo was Olmec sculptures, body adornments, ritual effigies, and clay and stone earmuffs. “Officers suspected the products to be cultural artifacts and detained them,” the release said.

To date, seven shipments have been repatriated, while the last two still undergoing processing. 

Within the last decade, the Mexican government has waged a campaign to reclaim its cultural property from far-flung museums and auction houses. Its efforts have born success in the United States, where bilateral agreements outlaw the import of “archeological and ethnological material” without legitimate documentation, such as export permits and receipts of purchase. (Documentation, however, does not guarantee ownership of the artifacts.)

“Customs and Border Protection will continue to use our border authority to identify, rescue, and return precious antiquities being smuggled by those who profit on the theft of another country’s historical and cultural property,” Neipert said.


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