Through the Ministry of Foreign Relations and the (INAH), Chichen Itza Could Recover Pieces of the Sacred Cenote that are currently in the United States.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the government authority in Mexico, is preparing to issue an official request, demanding that the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology – a prominent establishment located within the famous academic campus of Harvard University – reinstate a series of 20 priceless archaeological objects.
It is argued that these prized relics, currently housed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were ripped out and unauthorized removal from Chichen Itza’s revered Sacred Cenote, a site of historical and cultural significance.
Marco Antonio Santos Ramírez, the administrator of the Chichen Itza Monument Zone, provides a detailed account of the events that led to the illegal acquisition of these artifacts. He points out that the responsibility falls on Edward H. Thompson, an American who acquired the hacienda where the cenote is located in 1895.
During the period between the years 1900 and 1906, Thompson employed a dredging team to excavate and extract these valuable treasures, causing considerable damage to the surrounding region in the process.
In addition, during his management, numerous researchers were welcomed who visited the place and illegally took a large number of artifacts with them. After Thompson’s death, some of these pieces were recovered, but others are still kept at the Peabody Museum.
Chichen Itza Could Recover Pieces of the Sacred Cenote
The set of 20 objects that constitutes the center of this conflict was thrown into the Sacred Cenote by the ancient Mayans. However, these artifacts are not exclusively of Mayan origin, but rather reflect the influence of various cultures.
In the Mayan worldview, cenotes were considered as portals to the underworld and, consequently, they used to throw valuable objects into these water tanks as a way of appeasing the gods and requesting beneficial rains and abundant harvests.
In the words of Santos Ramírez: “The treasures were thrown into the cenote as an act of gratitude to the divinities of the underworld. But many of these objects are not inherently Mayan, and herein lies their relevance. These artifacts confirm the existence of exchange networks between Chichen Itza and other cultures. These objects, created in very ancient times, were seen as relics and played an important role in offering ceremonies.”
INAH is currently in the process of compiling a comprehensive dossier containing all the data and evidence necessary to support this request. The initial plan is to submit this petition through diplomatic channels, using the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE), in the hope that the US institution will offer a favorable response, avoiding the need to take legal action.
The precious artifacts, made from materials such as gold, jade, turquoise and obsidian, among others, if their return is achieved, will have a place of honor in the Site Museum of the Archaeological Zone of Chichen Itza. This museum is under construction as part of the Program for the Improvement of Archaeological Zones (Promeza), a parallel initiative of the Mayan Train construction project.
The fight for the return of these pieces is essential for the preservation of the cultural heritage and history of Mexico. Each object tells a unique story and provides valuable insight into the ancient civilizations that once inhabited this land. The pieces are also a testament to the vast cultural exchanges that occurred at the time, evidencing the connections that existed between the different pre-Columbian civilizations.
The potential recovery of these artifacts also represents a symbolic victory for the cause of the repatriation of cultural artifacts around the world. Over the years, many treasures and relics have been removed from their place of origin and brought to museums and private collections around the world. This practice, often seen as a form of cultural looting, has led to a growing movement seeking the repatriation of such objects to their places of origin.
This case is not just a matter of returning archaeological objects, it is a matter of respect and recognition of the rich and complex history of ancient cultures that make up Mexico’s heritage. This INAH action is expected to open a new chapter on the path towards the protection and preservation of global cultural heritage.