The FBI Returns pre-Columbian Antiquities

Pre-Colombian pieces found in retirement community head homeOn Tuesday the FBI announced it was returning 150 pre-Columbian artifacts which had been smuggled out of Peru and Ecuador.  The objects were found in the home of a recently deceased man, who had apparently been a collector of the antiquities. 

The 153 pieces of jewelry as well as pottery, baskets, sculptures and figurines were found last April in the home of a man after he died in his retirement community in Avon Park, Florida, according to the bureau’s Miami field office.
Experts indicated that the artifacts, presented in a Miami ceremony to representatives of the Peru and Ecuador governments, were between 500 and 3,200 years old, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.
The FBI teamed up with specialists from Florida International University who determined that 141 of the pieces originated in what is present-day Peru, and the other 12 came from neighboring Ecuador.
“These artifacts represent the cultural heritage of Peru and Ecuador. They can never be replaced and should be on display for many to see, not locked away,” said the FBI’s chief agent in Miami, John Gillies.
“We are honored to return these items to their rightful owners,” Gillies added.

These announcements have become almost routine, with an estimated 2,600 items recovered just since 2004.  

  1. AFP: FBI returns smuggled artifacts to Peru, Ecuador, Dec. 1, 2009.
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3 thoughts on “The FBI Returns pre-Columbian Antiquities”

  1. Derek- I assume the 2,600 number relates to all artifacts recovered by the FBI art squad, including paintings and the like.

    I would be interested in your take on the legal basis for this particular return of Pre-Columbian artifacts. Reading the FBI press release and some other articles, it seems to be little more than the fact that they are Pre-Columbian artifacts and the fact that both Peru and Ecuador have laws on the books related to such artifacts. But should this be enough to support a seizure and repatriation without more evidence about the artifacts in question? I’m sure you know identical artifacts have been collected here for generations, and despite import restrictions on Peruvian artifacts, they still are collected both here and in Latin America, including at least Peru. I suppose in this case, there were no heirs to contest the seizure, but do we know how hard anyone looked to find them?

    Best wishes,

    Peter Tompa

  2. As for the 2,600, I think that is the number given by the FBI’s own press release for all objects recovered by the Art Crime Team since 2004, which can include a number of objects.

    There is not really much information on why the objects were returned. Not sure who has a legal claim here to challenge the repatriation if there are no successors to the deceased. If the woman running the retirement home found and reported these objects, there probably weren’t many heirs to come forward.

    We are left to assume that there was some evidence which the FBI had here which indicated some kind of illegal activity, and these objects should be returned to Peru and Ecuador. I’m not aware of any of the particulars, as is often the case with these returns where no charges are filed.

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