Germany Returns Secular Mayan Artifacts Found in Cellar | History News

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The Guatemalan official hopes that the return of these objects, probably taken from grave robbers, will induce other private collectors to “follow the same path”.

Germany on Friday returned a collection of ancient Mayan artifacts to Guatemala and Mexico after police found them hidden in the cellar of a farm in the state of Saxony-Anhalt last year.

The 13 objects include vases, figurines and plates and date from the period between AD 250 and 850, the regional government of Saxony-Anhalt said.

State Premier Reiner Haseloff handed them over to Guatemalan Ambassador Jorge Lemcke Arevalo and Mexican Ambassador Francisco Quiroga during a ceremony held in Berlin on Friday.

Eleven of the objects were made in what is now Guatemala, but also include two figurines from Teotihuacan, the largest city in pre-Aztec central Mexico, located approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Mexico City.

“This gives us hope that other owners of similar pieces in private collections will follow the same path” to return them, Arevalo said at a press conference.

Quiroga called the gesture an “exceptional example”.

“The illegal trade in cultural goods must be stopped and combined,” Haseloff said, adding that the handover was meant to raise awareness.

View of a “head fragment”, part of a small treasure trove of Mayan cultural artifacts that were delivered to Mexico and Guatemala in Berlin on November 5, 2021 [John MacDougall/AFP]
Historical objects, discovered in 2020 in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, include figures, plates and cups dating from between 250 and 850 AD [John MacDougall/AFP]

“Items looted or stolen from former colonies can be found not only in museums, but also in our cellars or attics,” he said.

The previous owner of the farm had buried the Mayan treasures in a box in 2007 along with two WWII rifles that had belonged to his grandfather.

He contacted police in 2020 to confess that the box could be found in the farmhouse’s cellar, saying he wanted to comply with the law on illegal delivery of weapons.

Police found the guns but, to their amazement, also discovered the items wrapped in newspapers, local prosecutors said.

The man said he was unaware of the origin of the objects or their real value.

According to the Saxony-Anhalt authorities, the items were likely stolen by grave robbers in Guatemala and Mexico before being sold on the black market.

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