Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Pre-Columbian Treasure?

A small, pre-Columbian figurine that came rolled up in T-shirts in an airline passenger's luggage was returned to Mexico, its country of origin, on Tuesday. The 2 1/2-inch artifact, which appears to have a face carved into it, was taken from a U.S. citizen who flew into Oakland International Airport Feb. 10, returning from a trip to Mexico.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer Jaime Gonzalez pulled the passenger aside to check his baggage as he was going through customs.
"I came upon this roll of clothing. The passenger did mention he had some rocks but he only had one (object)," Gonzalez said. "He was a little surprised, especially when I asked him if he had documents for importation."
Officials took the artifact away from the passenger after he failed to provide documentation, claiming he found it in the mountains of Ameca, in the state of Jalisco in western Mexico.
"It did not seem criminal at all," Gonzalez added. "It seemed more innocent than anything that he found it and picked it up."
The passenger did not contest authorities' decision to keep the artifact for further examination and there was no indication that he stole the artifact intentionally, said Richard Vigna, director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security.
Professors at UCSF, Stanford University and the University of Colorado Denver and other experts examined photos of the object and confirmed the article to be pre-Columbian - art of Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean before European colonizers arrived in the 15th century.
Experts determined that the artifact's style was consistent with items found in central Jalisco state and believe it could be the foot of a larger piece like an urn or vase.
"In reality, no monetary value can be attached to this object - it is invaluable," said Consul General of Mexico Carlos Felix Corona, during the repatriation ceremony at the Consulate General of Mexico in San Francisco.
Mexico has a large body of pre-Columbian art, Corona said. Often, farmers discover pieces through erosion but many get stolen for intended sale in the United States.
"Local authorities do not have all the resources for surveillance, but it is illegal to take any kind of object that you find there, according to Mexican law," he said. "Not even rocks can be taken from the sites."
Artifacts are occasionally repatriated to Mexico from the United States. Another pre-Columbian piece was found several years ago on a cargo plane, according to Vigna.
"It has happened before, but not very frequently in San Francisco," he said.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico will assess the artifact and determine whether it will be placed in a museum.
"This is significant because with this action, we can maintain Mexico's cultural patrimony for present and future generations," he said.

This article was offered by Banderas News which is a website from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. They have quoted Richard Vigna, director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, professors at UCSF, Stanford University and the University of Colorado Denver, and Mexico's Consul General in San Francisco. All experts described this object as Pre-Columbian and worthy of both seizure at the airport and repatriation to Mexico. From what I can see from the photograph of the object, it appears to be a leg fragment from a vessel. Stylistically, this does not appear to me to be from the state of Jalisco. At a length of 2 1/2 inches, even it were authentic and I am not at all convinced, it would be more  no more $30 - $50.

My point in even mentioning this in this forum is to wonder what sort of accountability our enforcement officials have in spending your tax dollars wisely. Most taxpayers have no idea of the value or for that, matter even the issues surrounding Pre-Columbian art and repatriation. The media should not immediately without asking questions score this as a victory for the good guys.

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