AP – Small, ancient sculptures that have been gathering dust in an Albuquerque storage box are returning home to Mexico, where they are intertwined with the identity of Indigenous communities.
The Albuquerque Museum Foundation is celebrating the repatriation of the dozen sculptures in a ceremony yesterday.
The local Consulate of Mexico will accept Olmec greenstone sculptures, a figure from the city of Zacatecas, bowls that were buried with tombs and other clay figurines that date back thousands of years.
The event comes as Native, Indigenous and African communities have pushed for museums, universities and other institutions to repatriate items that are important parts of their cultures and histories.
Foundation President and CEO Andrew Rodgers said returning the sculpture that have sat in storage for 15 years was the right thing to do. Even the foundation’s board agreed. But some outside their organisation had a different idea.
“We did encounter a couple people who suggested ‘Oh you should just sell these …’They may not be worth a tonne so just keep them’ or ‘Mexico doesn’t really care about this kind of stuff,’” Rodgers said.
Mexico, however, very much cares.
“We appreciate and recognise actions taken by the Albuquerque Museum Foundation to voluntarily return these archaeological pieces back to the Mexican nation,” Consul of Mexico Norma Ang Sánchez said in a statement. “They are important elements of memory and identity for our native communities, and we are pleased they will be recovered.”
The effort to research the artefacts’ origins began over five months ago when they were discovered sitting in a box in storage. Rodgers’ assistant obtained the original appraisal form from when a donor gifted them in 2007.
“Immediately alarm bells started going off in our heads” when they saw the label “pre-Columbian”, Rodgers said.
Playing Internet detective, Rodgers found the original dealer. A New York woman in her 90s still had the original notecards from the items’ sale to the donors in 1985. She said they either were purchased on a roadside in Mexico or from dealers in New England.