With the construction of the new museum in Chichén Itzá, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) will request the repatriation of 20 archaeological pieces from the Peabody Museum at the University of New York, which were taken to the United States by Edward Herbert Thompson over a century ago.
Marco Antonio Santos Ramírez, the director of Archaeological Monuments of Chichén Itzá, pointed out that he will request the involvement of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the United States, hoping that the recovered pieces will be part of the new exhibition hall for pre-Hispanic artifacts.
“The procedures are being carried out to manage the return of about 20 archaeological pieces currently located at the Peabody Museum of the University of New York, so that they can return to Chichén Itzá,” he noted.
The interviewee mentioned that these objects were extracted between 1900 and 1906 by Edward Herbert Thompson, who used a dredge to recover various pieces from the sacred water cenote while conducting exploration work at the archaeological site. The then-Consul of the United States in Yucatán placed them in diplomatic bags, which were subsequently transported to the United States by Thompson himself and others who visited him.
He recalled that in 1930, there was a trial against Edward Herbert Thompson, and the Peabody Museum returned some archaeological pieces but kept the most important ones.
However, now, with the construction of the new exhibition space, the repatriation of the pieces will be requested, “which should never have left, especially since they were looted and stolen from the site.”
Santos Ramírez detailed that there are gold pieces, ceramics, sculptures, as well as textiles, all in different shapes and sizes, ranging from small to medium.
At the moment, the Legal Department of INAH is compiling the necessary documentation to make the request promptly and initiate the process through the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the United States.
Edward Herbert Thompson, who passed away on May 11, 1935, arrived in Mérida in 1855 and spent most of his life in Yucatán. Although he only spoke English when he arrived, he quickly learned Spanish and became fluent in the Mayan language as well.
Unfortunately, it was a time when Mexican identity was still forming (late 19th century), and the protection of archaeological artifacts did not have regulations in place.
Upon arriving at the Chichén Itzá archaeological zone, Thompson purchased land that included the sacred cenote for only 300 pesos. Once settled, he built a dredge to recover the treasures thrown into the depths of the waters for ritual purposes. The main extractions took place between 1904 and 1911, and he found numerous gold, copper, and jade artifacts, as well as samples of clothing and wooden weapons.
It is estimated that he retrieved around 30,000 Maya archaeological pieces over 30 years using this method, which he sent to the United States. In 1926, an incomplete list of what was extracted by T.A. Willard was first published in his work “The City of Sacred Well,” mentioned in Volume II of the Enciclopedia Yucatanense.
Many of these pieces are part of the collections in museums in the United States, while others are held in private collections, and some have been repatriated thanks to INAH’s efforts.
However, there was one piece that Thompson was unable to take—the Red Jaguar Throne. According to archaeologist Rafael Cobos, the fascinating Mayan artifact was ready to be shipped and taken out of the country, but Teoberto Maler
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