EL PASO, TX – Nearly 100 stolen archaeological artifacts dating back to the pre-Columbian era were returned on August 22 to the Government of Mexico, following an investigation by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
According to HSI, the antiquities were stolen in 2008 from a private collection and museum in Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila, Mexico. In 2009, HSI special agents assigned to the Alpine sub-office seized hundreds of pieces that had been smuggled into the country, while in 2012, many of the artifacts were returned to Mexico.
The Office of Homeland Security Investigations, noted that on Aug. 22, during a repatriation ceremony at the Big Bend Museum on the campus of Sul Ross State University, HSI officials returned the remaining pieces.
All artifacts were examined and authenticated by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
“The Office of Homeland Security Investigations is committed to working with Mexico and other countries to ensure that their antiquities and cultural heritage are preserved for future generations. The returned pieces are rare treasures of past civilizations that should be enjoyed by all, not by a few interested only in lining their pockets.” said Francisco B. Burrola, special agent in charge of HSI El Paso, and who oversees operations in West Texas and the state of New Mexico.
“Archaeological pieces from our pre-Hispanic societies are a fundamental part of Mexico’s cultural wealth,” said Gamaliel Bustillos Muñoz, consul of Mexico in Presidio, Texas. “In this case, the cooperation and friendship between the governments of Mexico and the United States have made it possible to preserve this wealth through the return of these pieces that were illicitly taken from our country.”
In an undercover operation in June 2009, HSI special agents in Alpine recovered hundreds of stolen Mexican artifacts from Antonio Javier Reyes in Fort Stockton, Texas,
Reyes was indicted in 2011, by a federal jury in the Western District of Texas for smuggling goods into the United States, interstate transportation of stolen goods, and possession of stolen goods or securities. The indictment was subsequently dismissed, but the artifacts were seized.
Among the items repatriated on August 22 were several arrowheads and spearheads, a silver Spanish coin, and a terracotta statuette.
HSI’s investigation determined that the artifacts were taken from Mexico in violation of Mexican law and brought to the United States in violation of U.S. laws and regulations. A treaty of cooperation between the United States and Mexico regarding the recovery and return of stolen archaeological, historical and cultural property, which was negotiated by the U.S. State Department and enacted in 1970, restricts the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious objects into the United States without proper export documents.
Since 2007, HSI investigations have led to the repatriation of more than 20,000 objects to more than 40 countries and institutions. Repatriated objects include paintings, sarcophagi, statues, coins and illuminated manuscripts.
In FY2022, HSI’s CPAA program repatriated cultural property to more than 15 countries, including France, India, Iraq, Italy and Mali. Among the items repatriated were cuneiform tablets, religious artifacts and architectural drawings stolen from Jewish communities during the Holocaust.