Many ancient monuments from America ended legally, less legally or completely illegally outside the country of origin.
Aubin Tonalamatl is a Mexican codex, painted with a black line and heavily colored shortly after the Spanish conquest, containing the 260 characters of the religious calendar, that is a book of good and bad days.
Allegedly, this codex had been sold legally; allegedly I write because a seizure in 1740 after the expulsion of its owner is included in the history of this source. In 1898, the codex was given to the French National Library in Paris.
In the summer of 1982 it was presented there for a Mexican lawyer and journalist, José Luis Castañeda del Valle, who correctly was registered at the library with name and address. When standing alone in front of the posted work in the reading room, he lifted it up from the table, closed it and squeezed it gently under his arm, walked up to the counter, nodded politely, handed his temporary loancard and walked out the front door. Then he flew home, and after some reflection he transferred the work to the Mexican library authorities.
Shortly after he was arrested. Confessed what had happened, but defended himself by having saved part of the Mexican heritage, yes that he would raise a national movement to bring the heritage home. Castañeda was released after the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs had declared Aubin Tonalamatl had been stolen in the 19th century.
The codex is now in the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City as a permanent loan, but must be inspected every third year by French authorities. Now the museum is safe, the museum claims.
When the Anthropological Museum has been claimed to be safe for this codex, I will also mention the worlds largest theft there of 124 irreplaceable museum items. Christmas Eve 1985 two amateurs – apostate college students – stole some of the most famous, exhibited and often reproduced items. Among the stolen were the obsidian jar of the pregnant monkey, a Mixtec gold jewel of the god of death, the batgod from Monte Albán and the death mask of King Pakal from Palenque. The museumguards had not been alert on their shifts and the alarm system had been out of order – so the police arrested the guards who knew everything about duty schedules and security systems.
Three years after the theft, police found 111 of the stolen museum pieces and arrested the thieves who, after numerous museum visits, had climbed in and out through venting channels. The museumguards had not been involved in the theft itself. Mexicos President Salinas was proud to have reestablished the nations honor.
Countless ancient monuments have been looted or stolen and subsequently sold and exhibited in public or private libraries or museums in European, North American and Asian cities. But decisions about where to store them are not solved with French temptations and cheeky thefts!
Peruvian archaeological authorities can also testify that the legal path can be elongated: 100 years passed from finds from Machu Picchu in 1912 were lent to Yale University in the USA until they were returned to the archaeological authorities in Peru – although a loan agreement originally was signed for a maximum of 18 months.
Universities, libraries and museums that possess world-cultural treasures often have argued that the country of origin doesn’t have the necessary storage and research facilities. True, many of the countries of origin didn’t give high priority to museums. Even in the 1970s, the anthropological museum in Lima kept 2,000 years old mummies in wooden boxes in the basement, which sometimes were flooded; today they have been moved to metal boxes and air conditioning has been installed.
A hundred years ago much would have been rotten, stolen or sold to collectors unless it had been in European or North American museums. It has also been of cultural importance that the exhibiting ‘foreign countries’ had and have the opportunity to experience and explore the past of the countries of origin. Finally, there may be disagreements about which modern state is currently entitled to treasures from past civilizations with none at all or any state borders other than the present.
UNESCO tries with the UNIDROIT-Convention to promote solutions to these often inseparable issues. Today, there actually are museums with good storage and research opportunities in many of the countries of origin, and historical treasures are important to the countrys selfawareness, not to mention its tourist economy. The demand, the objects shall come home can be substantiated by arguments about past crimes including stories of gravelooters as well as todays antiquethieves and -sellers.
Also in Denmark we have world cultural treasures. At the National Museum, 2,000 years old fabrics are stored from the de-sert town of Pachacamac in present-day Peru, items which might have been rotted if they had remained in Peru. In a cellar in Lyngby near Copenhagen, a private artcollector had hidden more than 1100 archaeological objects from Mexico, Peru and Ecuador, which he had bought from criminals; after disclosure in 2007, he agreed that the items should be returned. In 2010, the Danish parliament adopted a law on the return of stolen or illegally exported cultural objects, and in 2016, the Glyptotek-museum and Italy entered into an agreement to hand over Etruscan works that the museum had purchased through criminal networks. At the same time, auctionhouse Lauritz.com sold Egyptian antiques despite protests from Egyptian archaeologist.
In Copenhagen lies one of the worlds most important illustrated manuscripts about Incas from around 1600, recorded on UNESCOs Memory of the World List. Several Peruvians have reminded me that Pomas work belongs to Peru and asked if I could do anything. Fortunately, The Royal Library has digitized the manuscript so that everyone today can see it via the web without the original being exposed to light, air and fingerfat.
(pp. 30-33 in volume 1, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
476 pages + 540 pages. Richly illustrated in colors
Published by Selskabet for smukkere Byfornyelse