WASHINGTON – The U.S. government returned to El Salvador 18 Maya polychrome ceramic pieces and statuettes that were smuggled out of the Central American country.
The pieces include containers with geometric and animal decorations in black, pink and red, as well as small figurines made of dark or white ceramic.
The items were stolen from a Salvadoran archaeological site and sold on the Internet by a Salvadoran couple now under arrest in their homeland, authorities said.
A joint investigation by U.S. and Salvadoran police enabled authorities to recover 45 objects in all, of which 18 pieces and four bags with ceramic fragments were brought into the United States, while the rest of the items were seized in the Central American country.
Authorities say the Salvadoran couple sold the items in a store in their country and also on the eBay online auction site.
U.S. Customs officials intercepted one of the shipments in Miami, which was the first step in an operation to recover more pieces and which lasted three years.
One of the pieces is an object dating from about 1400 B.C., according to authorities.
Many other artifacts have been lost or sold to customers in Japan, Britain, Canada and France, Jeff Klinko, one of the agents who participated in the operation, told Efe, adding that the Salvadoran couple “made shipments all over the world.”
The pieces recovered were returned Wednesday in a ceremony at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington.
“We are returning these artifacts to their rightful owners, that is to say, the citizens of El Salvador,” said Alonzo Peña, deputy assistant secretary of Homeland Security.
“The value of these pieces cannot be put in monetary terms,” Salvadoran Ambassador Francisco Altschul said. “They are part of our history, our culture, our identity and our cultural patrimony, and in that sense they are priceless.”
The containers and figures will remain in Washington until the embassy completes the procedures to securely send them back to El Salvador, Altschul said, adding that their final destination will be the National Archaeology Museum. EFE