Three pre-Columbian sculpted faces returned to Mexico from Germany

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Three centuries-old pre-Columbian sculptures that since the 1970s had been in Germany have been returned to Mexico voluntarily, officials said Thursday, the latest repatriation of cultural antiquities that has recently been gaining steam.

The clay artifacts each feature sculpted faces and hail from ancient Mexican cultures that flourished in the present-day southern states of Oaxaca and Campeche, and the Gulf coast.

Countries like Mexico and Peru with a rich cultural heritage that includes finely-crafted relics, are increasingly seeking the return of objects tied to national pride and identity.

Last November, an unnamed German woman who had held the objects for decades approached the Mexican embassy in Berlin to turn them over, said Alejandro Bautista, an official with Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH).

He said it was unclear how the woman obtained the three artifacts, which were given to Mexico’s foreign ministry earlier this month. The pieces will be further analyzed and could eventually be put on public display.

The oldest of the three objects, possibly a ceremonial urn used to burn incense and dating back more than 1,500 years, has been identified as coming from Mexico’s Zapotec culture, whose hilltop capital of Monte Alban is a popular tourist destination.

Over just the last year, the Mexican government has recovered more than 60 archeological artifacts from the United States, Australia and now Germany, according to INAH.

In addition, nearly 600 religious drawings of Mexican origin from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries that had been illegally taken were returned last year by the Italian government.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Mexican embassy in Germany, the pieces were delivered voluntarily without the need for legal action,” INAH said in a statement.

“The government of Mexico reaffirms its commitment to the recovery of our cultural heritage abroad.”

Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Michael Perry