Piece of Mexican history will come back home

By Dania Vargas Austryjak

Ancient Olmec carving recovered

For over 40 years, a piece of Mexican history went missing from its country of origin: an ancient carving from the Olmec culture, which was stolen in the state of Chiapas and recently reappeared in France under unclear circumstances. Now, the piece will return home after so many years.

The 2-meter tall stone carving from the Olmec culture known as the Xoc bas relief, is a unique and intriguing piece that was stolen from its original site – a natural rock formation in Ocosingo, Chiapas. The piece was thought to be in the hands of a private collector, and then given to an auction house where the piece was received in poor shape and broken up into four pieces.

Bajorrelieve olmeca de XocOriginal Image: “Bajorrelieve olmeca de Xoc” by Vincent Girier-Dufournier. Press Release No. 248. Source: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia INAH.

After this, the story tells that the auction house contacted French archeologist Dominique Michelet, who is the representative of the Asociación de Amigos de México en Francia (AAMF), who acted as intermediary for the restitution of this monumental piece.

The Xoc bas relief is 220 cm tall, 150 cm long and about 30 cm wide. It is fortunately in great conditions. The carving represents a man standing, depicted in profile dressed with symbolic attire, wearing a mouth mask, a tall headdress and clawed feet. All features of Olmec iconography.

“It is exceptional because it is a petroglyph found relatively far from the Olmec metropolitan area, which is the coast of the gulf, since we are in Chiapas and almost reaching the Lacandon Jungle, which was Maya territory,” explained Michelet during an interview with Mexican daily Milenio.

The piece will soon return home, where it will be exhibited. This is the first time that an archeological piece is restituted in Mexico from France. “It is a milestone in the history of the recovery of objects of archaeological culture of Mexican pre-Hispanic societies”, said Álvaro Bautista, representative of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

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