(Note: Originally posted 7.15.12)


This bronze tumi knife was used in Pre-Inca sacrificial ceremonies in what is now Peru before it was swiped and brought to the U.S. Last week, the tumi and other loot, some of which was listed on eBay, was returned to Peruvian authorities. Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


A few months ago, we wrote about a gold bell shaped like a monkey head that was on its way back to Peru after being looted. Last week, U.S. customs officials announced the monkey head, which was made by the Moche culture some 1,500 years ago, now has some company.

Another looted hoard being repatriated to Peru includes a bronze tumi sacrificial knife, a woven belt, a Moche whistling bowl as well as other pottery and some more recent (1700s ) paintings. A Thursday ceremony at the Peruvian embassy in Washington, D.C., marked the occasion.

“The plundering of cultural property is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime and has become a world-wide phenomenon that transcends frontiers,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a prepared statement.

The looted artifacts were recovered in the course of five separate investigations by special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in New York; W.V.; Wilmington, Del.; and Austin and Houston, Texas, officials said.

Federal agents determined the items were removed from Peru and brought to the United States in violation of laws in both countries, including statues that restrict the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious objects into the United States without proper export documents.
Where did the feds find the stuff? Authorities said some was listed by prestigious auction houses. And some, it appears, was for sale on eBay.

According to the an ICE statement on the case, “two of the Cusco (Cusco is a region in Peru) oil paintings – Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Virgin and Child – were sold at an auction house in Austin. Seven other Peruvian antique paintings were being sold from a Houston gallery. The pre-Columbian Chimu-Inca whistling pot and Andean textile were being sold on eBay. In an undercover Internet operation, HSI special agents in West Virginia targeted sellers of illicit pre-Columbian artifacts operating from this Internet site. The monstrance was listed for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York and HSI special agents discovered it was consigned by an art collector associated with museums in Puerto Rico and Denver.”

The monstrance — a Eucharist receptacle — was stolen from St. Stephen the Martyr, a small Catholic church in Yaurisque, located in the Cusco region. The Moche ceramic jar and the tumi knife were consigned by an estate trust in order to be sold at an auction house in Madison, N.J.
The collection of items returned includes:

Nine 18th century religious paintings from the Cusco region;
A pre-Columbian Chimu-Inca double-chambered blackware vessel that whistles when it contains liquid;
An ancient Andean textile that may have been used as a woman’s belt;
A Spanish colonial silver gilt and enamel monstrance from the 1700s. This type of receptacle was and is still used in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches;
A ceramic jar from the Moche culture that portrays farmers and fishermen who lived on the river valleys and the arid coastal plain of northern Peru during 100 to 800 A.D.; and
A Peruvian bronze ceremonial blade, or tumi, used by the Inca and pre-Inca cultures in the Peruvian coastal region as a sacrificial ceremonial knife.
(7.15.12)

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