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  HOME | Mexico

Mexico Recovers Two Pilfered Olmec Antiquities in Germany

BERLIN – Mexico recovered on Tuesday, after 10 years of diplomatic and judicial endeavors, two archaeological gems from the Olmec culture some 3,200 years old, and which were among the works seized in Germany from the controversial collector Leonardo Patterson.

The two busts fashioned of ceiba wood and cedar cones, measuring 48 and 30 centimeters (19 and 12 inches) tall, were carved around 1200 BC in what is today the southeastern Mexican state of Veracruz. Only 13 similar pieces have been found, two of which are on show at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

“We’ve been successful and we’re really happy,” the coordinator of judicial affairs at the National institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico, Maria Villarreal, told EFE. She is currently in Germany to receive the antiquities at a restitution ceremony.

These are two “very special” busts and “perfectly preserved,” said the expert employed at the El Manati archaeological site, the only dig that has turned up sculptures of the style, antiquity and characteristics identified with the Olmec culture, “one of Mexico’s first.”

In addition, the restitution sets a “very important precedent” for Mexico and for other Latin American countries that have complained about the plundering of their cultural heritage, and which find it very hard to win the legal battles needed to get these objects back.

“We have done important work to prove, with clear and precise evidence, that the pieces are Mexican and were taken out of the country illegally. We have been able to prove illegal possession,” Villarreal said.

Mexico, she added, will not stop trying to recover treasures of its national heritage, however long and tedious the diplomatic and legal procedures required, as in this case that began in 2008.

In that year, German authorities seized in Munich more than 1,100 archaeological items from a moving van coming from Spain, works claimed as his own by Patterson, a Costa Rican living in this German city.

Patterson is a highly controversial character in the world of art, sentenced in the United States in 1984 for “fraud” related to pre-Columbian antiquities, and who has been under investigation and on trial on both sides of the Atlantic.

The two busts that were recovered, and which are estimated to have been “pilfered at the end of the 1980s,” will be taken this Thursday by Villarreal on a commercial airliner wrapped in “special packaging designed expressly” for their transport.

After landing in Mexico, the busts will be taken to the INAH workshops to be “stabilized” and “rehabilitated” – despite being preserved for years in the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich – and Villarreal hopes they will be exhibited in a “very short time.”


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