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Colombia Requests Spain to Return Gold Treasure

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Colombia Spain Gold
Colombia has requested Spain to return the Quimbaya Treasure, consisting of 433 gold pieces gifted to the Spanish crown in the late 19th century. Credit: Presidency of Colombia

Colombia has formally requested the return of the ‘Quimbaya Treasure’ from Spain through a letter sent by the national government on May 9. This treasure consists of hundreds of gold pieces gifted to the Spanish crown in the late 19th century and is currently housed in the Museum of America in Madrid.

The request for the return of this treasure, considered Cultural Heritage of the nation, was made through a document signed by the Minister of Cultures, Arts, and Knowledge, Juan David Correa, and the Foreign Minister, Luis Gilberto Murillo, addressed to their Spanish counterparts.

The collection comprises archaeological items, including ceramics, goldsmithing, lithic, and organic materials, associated with the Classical Quimbaya period. These items were plundered by local looters and given by the Colombian government to the Kingdom of Spain in 1893.

Colombia asks Spain to return 433 gold pieces

The treasure includes 433 pre-Columbian artifacts made of gold and tumbaga, an alloy of gold and copper. Besides showcasing the sophisticated goldsmithing skills of Native American peoples, the artifacts have been a subject of controversy in Colombia’s political history. President Carlos Holguin gifted this treasure as a ‘diplomatic present’ to the Spanish government, upsetting those who viewed it as part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

The letter acknowledges the efforts made by Spanish authorities to conserve and protect these pieces. It further mentions that “this gesture, and its desirable outcome, fall within international models regarding museum decolonization policies.”

The letter concludes that the return of these gold pieces will have invaluable implications by “vindicating cultural sovereignty, recognizing the cultural rights of peoples, and the comprehensive management of cultural collections. Therefore, we are willing to support any procedures and costs associated, should the Spanish authorities require it.”

What is ‘museum decolonization’?

In January 2024, Spain’s Minister of Culture, Ernest Urtasun, proposed a project to “decolonize” national museums, joining an initiative by the International Council of Museums. This involves returning heritage objects, acquired during the colonial era and currently displayed in museums, to their countries of origin. In Spain, this will initially affect the Museum of America and the National Museum of Anthropology.

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