A treasure-trove of about 100 artifacts, believed to be pre-Columbian, is on its way to Mexico, its presumed home, U.S. customs agents and Mexican diplomats said Tuesday.
Among the antiquities is a stone mask of a broad-featured man, which is believed to come from the Olmec civilization, the oldest in the Americas, and it dates as far back as 1000 BC, experts said. Other items include figurines in jadeite, precious stones symbolically linked to fertility for the people of ancient Mesoamerica and once valued more than gold.
"We're so very happy about the return of these pieces," said Eduardo Rea Falcón, the consul in charge for Mexico's diplomatic post in Dallas. "It is unfortunate that through looting and robbing, these items fell into private hands."
One of the most stunning pieces is the mask, Mr. Rea said.
But when the experts at Mexico's National Institute for Anthropology and History unpack the goods, they may unravel far more significant mysteries, as authentication deepens, he said. "They may find something of incalculable value," Mr. Rea said.
Equally mysterious is the trajectory of the smuggled artifacts into the Dallas vaults of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The goods represent several seizures in Texas and New Mexico, including an initial seizure in 2001, said Carlos Fontanez, a CBP spokesman in the Houston office.
But Mr. Fontanez gave few details to the whodunit tale. No one has been charged with smuggling the goods into the U.S., he said, though it is illegal to traffic in antiquities under U.S. law.
It's an odd story, as there is no indication of how or under what circumstances these objects were seized. Dealing and importing these objects is of course illegal; one wonders why there was no arrest, and also why it took so long to return them to Mexico. One possible answer is the objects were being held for possible prosecution or criminal charges.