FBI repatriates recovered 1,000-year-old Mayan artifacts to Guatemala

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Federal authorities on Friday formally repatriated a collection of more than thousand-year-old Mayan artifacts to the Guatemalan government at a ceremony in Los Angeles after recovering them from the estate of a deceased art collector.The collection of limestone sculptures was turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by a person handling the estate of the collector, who has not been publicly identified.

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“The cultural significance of these pre-Columbian artifacts is priceless to the people of Guatemala,” Deirdre Fike, FBI assistant director in charge of the agency’s Los Angeles office, said following the ceremony.

“I’m very pleased that the FBI’s Art Crime Team was able to facilitate the return of these ancient treasures to their proper home.”

No criminal charges were filed over the recovery of the sculptures, three which have been traced to the Late Classic Maya Era (A.D. 600-900).

According to the FBI, experts say the fragments were uncovered near a ruined temple building in the Petexbatun Region of Guatemala and that an inscription found on them is part of a text that served as a primitive calendar.

The other four pieces were thought to have originated in the El Peru area of Guatemala and believed to date to the Early Classic Period (A.D. 400-600).

According to the FBI, experts have said the artifacts are consistent with Mayan iconography and that the carvings are associated with symbolism depicting an earth or mountain monster.

All seven will be shipped to Guatemala in the coming days. The Guatemalan government will determine the best place to house and display them.

A source close to the case said that the items were believed to have been purchased by the now-deceased art collector in the 1970s from a man who was convicted during that decade of dealing in other artifacts that were illegally brought to the United States.

No charges were ever filed in connection with the seven pieces repatriated on Friday.

The U.S. government has an agreement with Guatemala restricting the import of archaeological artifacts.

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Leslie Adler