Two collectors in San Diego, California, voluntarily turned 65 archaeological artefacts over to the Mexican government earlier this month. Norm Werthman and Pete Mechalas returned the objects in a ceremony held at the Mexican consulate in San Diego on 16 May. The items restituted belonged to the Preclassic, Classic and Mesoamerican Postclassic periods, ranging in geographic origin from the Central Mexican Plateau region to the Gulf of Mexico.
Objects of particular note include a glass with a clay pedestal-shaped support modeled by artisans on the Gulf Coast between 100CE and 900CE and a cajete or bowl decorated with line and dot motifs native to the aesthetic tradition of the Tumbas de Tiro, or Shaft Tombs—underground funerary chambers used by the social elites of pre-Hispanic Western Mexico.
“I thank these citizens of San Diego for the generous and selfless gesture of returning these pieces to the people of Mexico,” González Gutiérrez, the consul general, said in a statement. “This is part of the permanent effort of the Mexican government to reintegrate pieces of historical and archaeological value that are part of the nation’s heritage.”
The artefacts will be repatriated in the near future, according to Mexico’s federal Ministry of Culture. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be responsible for ensuring the safe return of the objects to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), which will carry out the requisite inspections and analyses.
The INAH did not share additional information about how Werthman and Mechalas obtained the items being repatriated. The artefacts’ return to Mexico is part of a long-term effort by the administration of current Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador to recover the country’s cultural heritage while changing attitudes towards illicit trafficking. The government’s social media campaign #MiPatrimoniaNoSeVende (“My Heritage is Not for Sale”), launched in 2018, has inspired the return of over 9,000 illegally traded artefacts since its inception, according to INAH, influencing several other nations to follow suit with their own hashtag campaigns.