A Dutch couple, Hubert De Boer and Liesebeth Mellis, returned 17 pre-Columbian artifacts to Mexico this past Sunday, according to a statement from the country’s Ministry of Culture.
The couple had the artifacts in their possession for more than 30 years, though the Ministry of Culture did not disclose how they had come to own the pieces. It was only when De Boer and Mellis visited an exhibition of Aztec artifacts at the Museum of Ethnography in the city of Leiden that they realized how important this cultural wealth was for Mexicans.
The 17 artifacts returned were verified as authentic by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History. During this process, they discovered that the objects came from a variety of Indigenous groups across pre-Columbian history. The artifacts were made by Huastec, Mexica, and Mixtec peoples. These artifacts are not emblems of a lost history—the people who created them have ancestors who still live in Mexico, speak their native languages, and continue to make art.
“The Mexican ambassador to the Netherlands, José Antonio Zabalgoitia, reaffirmed Mexico’s commitment to recover cultural assets of a patrimonial nature and thanked Mr. De Boer and Mrs. Mellis for their initiative in returning the country its archaeological heritage,” wrote the Secretary of Foreign Relations in the statement.
The government of Mexico has been making a concerted effort to halt the sale of pre-Columbian artifacts abroad and is continuously making requests for restitution. In November, for example, the Mexican Embassy in France expressed concerns about upcoming auctions of pre-Columbian artifacts at French auction houses Artcurial and Christie’s, reported ARTnews. Mexico’s efforts to stop such auctions have had mixed results, and in the case of the Artcurial and Christie’s auctions, the sales went on as planned.