Netherlands repatriated 223 pre-Hispanic artifacts to Mexico, thanks to the “active cooperation” between the two nations, Mexico’s foreign ministry announced last week.
In a statement, the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), which oversees the conservation and exhibition of Mexico’s archaeological heritage, said the 223 pre-Hispanic pieces returned by the Netherlands date from different periods spanning the 13th century BCE to the 16th century CE. The items are from various cultures “in the west, the Central Highlands, the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast region,” it added.
The agreement with the Netherlands is the latest in a determined campaign by the Mexican government to reclaim its cultural heritage from museum collections and auction houses worldwide.
In 2018, Mexican President Andres Manual Lopez’s administration launched #MiPatrimonioNoSeVende (#MyHeritageIsNotForSale), a movement aimed at discouraging people from buying and selling pre-Hispanic and pre-Columbian artifacts by explaining their significance to Indigenous and national pride. To date, the movement has assisted in the return of nearly 9,000 artifacts worldwide, galvanizing repatriation campaigns in other countries suffering from cultural exploitation, such as Iraq and Cambodia.
In August, Mexican secretary of culture Frausto Guerrero explained the movement’s motivations in an official statement, saying the issue is about “the restitution of the dignity of those who have always been deprived and discriminated against, of cultures that have resisted 500 years and that are alive, and that deserve to be recognized in the greatness of their past.”
Guerrero said the administration is working with three strategies: “voluntary delivery” which raises awareness of the subject of restitution, “seizures” via the law, and “the cancellation of auctions” of artifacts.
In November, INAH denounced a recent Paris auction that offered more than 60 pre-Columbian archaeological artifacts, urging it to “reflect on the ethical codes around the commercialization of looted cultural assets that contribute to cultural dispossession.” At the time, Mexican officials cited a 1934 law in the country which prohibits the export of Mexican objects of archaeological importance. The legislation, however, is not applicable outside of Mexico, often leaving the fate of artifacts in the hands of the auctioneers.