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Colombia Recovers 77 Pre-Hispanic Artifacts from Germany


Colombia Archeological Pieces
Colombia recovers 77 archeological pieces from Germany. Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Colombia has recovered some archaeological artifacts that were in the hands of private individuals in Germany. The set of 77 pre-Hispanic objects, belonging to cultures such as the Tayrona, San Agustin, Guane, Calima and Quimbaya, were brought from the European country in the presidential plane.

The pre-Hispanic artifacts are ceramics, metals and textiles, which were created by the civilizations that inhabited America before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century. These pieces are material testimonies of pre-Columbian cultures and represent an important part of the cultural and archeological heritage of Latin American countries. They include sculptures, vessels, tools, jewelry and other artifacts that reflect the technical skills, cosmology, religion and daily life of the indigenous societies that produced them.

The pieces had been at the Colombian Consulate in Frankfurt since last August, after being delivered through the law firm Martini-Mogg-Vogt, administrators of the estate of a German family who claimed to have acquired the pieces in Colombia in 1974.

The importance of recovering the past

Colombian experts have stressed the importance of recovering this type of artifact for the preservation of the country’s cultural past. Catalina Ceballos, director of cultural affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained that the process of repatriation of pieces “begins with a diplomatic dialogue and research and inquiry about the whereabouts of the pieces…… most of the time, ambassadors are the ones who locate them in auction houses and receive communications from people who are interested in returning them. Then the conversations begin, via the ministry with the ICANH (Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History) so that an expert appraisal is made.”

Ceballos explains that today we are in an era which focuses on memory and cultural preservation, and that the importance of repatriations like these lies in the fact that “today we are entering into new narratives on how the past is remembered. Memory has generally been from the process of civilization or colony. The process of civilization uncovers the pieces and it is that process that takes it away. Today we can talk about a decolonization because it is not only about memory, it is also about new narratives on how museums keep the pieces, new narratives to recognize which pieces were for use and others were for the worship of some idols, the sun or water…”

Colombia Archeological Pieces
The pieces belonged to a German family that bought them in Colombia in 1974. Credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Expert involvement

Regarding the classification of the pieces, it is important to have the involvement of an expert on the content. “The expertise consists of seeing the specific characteristics of the material, of the figures, and in that sense then the pieces are also sent via the embassy or consulate, as in this case, thanks to the service provided by the presidential plane and on other occasions the Gloria Ship (flagship of the Colombian Navy school),” clarifies director Ceballos.

Specifically, the set of recovered pieces represents different pre-Columbian cultures that occupied the territory that today is the Republic of Colombia. In this regard, Juan Pablo Ospina, coordinator of archaeology of ICANH, said that it could be assumed that, due to the shapes, style, wear and tear observed in several of the pieces, they would be part of the corpus of archaeological heritage of the nation.

“The importance (of the repatriation of these objects) has to do with a proper way for us to have control over the archaeological heritage of the nation….. these objects serve as social appropriation of our past, our heritage, and contribute to the consolidation of the social memory and identity of a nation,” said the cultural expert in archeology of ICANH.

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