South American Antiquities Seized in Europe


There have been two major seizures of South American pre-Columbian antiquities in recent days.

On Tuesday, Spanish police announced they had seized more than 700 objects (pictured here), which included gold objects, masks, vessels, pendants, and maces. The objects may have been taken from Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. The objects were in the possession of a Spanish man and his Columbian wife, who it seems has been selling them mainly in France for many years, according to the Spanish Interior Ministry.

This follows on the major unrelated recovery in Germany of over 1,000 objects, including masks, necklaces and statues which may be worth as much as $100 million USD. This collection had been exhibited in 1997 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and were taken out of Spain in violation of Spain’s export restrictions. This group of objects may be more difficult to ascertain ownership, as Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador all may have claim to them. This may be the classic case of an orphaned object, stripped of its provenience (the place where it was unearthed).

It’s worth noting perhaps that this German seizure was made possible because of the EU regulations, which require one Member State enforce the export restrictions of other member states. In this way, objects have to pass multiple checks ideally before they can be sold. However this collection of objects has been missing for 11 years, since 1997.

These massive seizures seem to occur with more regularity now than they have in the past, which is certainly a good thing. We may perhaps speculate about how many objects escape regulation.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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