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April 5, 2010Washington, DC, United StatesCultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations

Pre-Columbian skulls returned to Peru

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned 12 pre-Columbian human skulls to Peruvian Ambassador Luis Miguel Baldivieso Montano in a ceremony at the Embassy of Peru. These ancient skulls were verified using carbon dating and determined to be pre-Columbian human skulls dating from 640-890 AD.

"This repatriation continues a long tradition between our countries of locating, investigating and returning items that are part of the history of Peru." said Gina Holland, acting deputy assistant director of the ICE Office of International Affairs. "These are irreplaceable and not souvenirs to be sold to the highest bidder. These are priceless pieces of a culture and clues to a region's traditions and history."

Originating from Lima, Peru, the artifacts were concealed within ceramic handicrafts, and discovered after they arrived at the Miami International Airport in May 2003. The consignee never claimed the shipment and it was forwarded to a general warehouse for auction. The purchaser of the shipment notified law enforcement officials upon determining the nature of the cultural property. ICE launched a criminal investigation involving the illegal importation of human remains.

In 1997, the U.S. and Peru entered into a bilateral agreement that imposes import restrictions on a broad range of archaeological and colonial period materials. The restrictions allow U.S. law enforcement to seize and return such materials if they lack export permits from Peruvian authorities. ICE partnerships with other federal and international law enforcement partners ensured the ICE investigation was able to secure the skulls and return these cultural treasures to the Peruvian people.

The repatriation of priceless historical pieces one of ICE's priorities. Often, these items are looted or stolen and then smuggled out of a country and into another and can be a vulnerability for both countries.

Updated: 07/10/2018