Ancient artifacts brought to Seattle decades ago returned to Mexico, Homeland Security officials say


Approximately 36 objects are among the pottery, figurines and household items returned to Mexico.


A trove of ancient Mexican artifacts brought to Seattle decades ago is finally coming home.

In January 2022, Homeland Security Investigations received a tip that a Seattle resident was in possession of 36 ancient artifacts from Chiapas, Mexico, a spokesperson for the agency’s Seattle office told CNN. The resident, whose family member originally had the items, volunteered to return them, the spokesperson said.

Today, these artifacts are getting closer to their homeland.

At a repatriation event Wednesday, special agents from Homeland Security Investigations presented the artifacts to the Mexican consulate in Seattle and formally turned them over to Mexican government officials, CNN affiliate KING 5 reported.

The exact age of the objects and figurines in the collection was difficult to determine, according to Homeland Security investigations, but officials said they were believed to be thousands of years old.

“These things were Mexican before Mexico was Mexico,” Mexico’s chief consul in Seattle, Héctor Iván Godoy Priske, said during the repatriation ceremony, according to KING 5.

Special Agent Robert Hammer also noted, “These things were passed down from family to family; These things have obviously been present on earth for almost 2,000 years.

“They changed hands several times,” Hammer said. “Sometimes good citizens come forward and say, ‘We got into these things and we’re not supposed to have these things and we’d like to make things right.’ »

Since 2007, Homeland Security Investigations has repatriated more than 20,000 items – including historical artifacts, fossils and works of art – to more than 40 countries and institutions around the world.

Wednesday’s event is part of numerous repatriation efforts across the country. In March, the FBI returned looted items found in a Massachusetts attic to Japan. Most recently, CNN reported that the Cleveland Museum of Art would return a stone statue to Libya.

Returning the artifacts could reveal answers about Mexico’s history, Godoy Priske said, as well as shed light on how these items ended up in Seattle.

“I think there was rather a laissez-faire attitude towards archaeological pieces in the early 1900s, which meant that many of these very valuable pieces left Mexico and fell into the hands of individuals,” the consul said.

This isn’t the first time these artifacts have made headlines: an article in a local newspaper, The Sunday News Tribune, in 1960 featured the items under the headline “2 Lakewood Explorers Find Artifacts During a trip to Mexico,” KING 5 reported. The article said Tacoma explorer Arnold Snell brought the items from “Mexico’s isolated Chiapas province.”

“We now recognize that an incredible degree of violence was inflicted on our indigenous population through the process of the conquistadors,” Godoy Priske said. “There has been a high degree of deliberate destruction of Mesoamerican artifacts throughout Mexican history, and being able to recover these artifacts begins to fill that gap.”

The Mexican consulate in Seattle said Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History will determine the future of the artifacts, but given their “historical significance,” it is likely they will be placed in a museum.

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