Recovering Mesoamerican Past: Repatriation of Monument 9

The plundering of culturally significant objects and treasure has been a prevalent issue for many years. Museums and private collectors for centuries have been taking the material culture of civilizations with no intention of returning them. Even to this day, it is not been uncommon to hear of nations condemning said institutions that are in possession of artifacts and remains that are culturally significant to them. Of course there have been some examples in recent years of repatriation, such as US art museums returning over 100 artifacts to Italy and Greece between 2005 and 2010 (La Follette 2016:670). However there is still the very prevalent issue of private collections, which is the very problem that Mexican officials face when recovering artifacts.

This is the stone structure known as Monument 9, believed to hold significance in rituals and act as a portal to the Underworld.

 Mexico, being the former center of many civilizations such as  the Olmec, Maya, and Aztecs, has an unimaginable amount of artifacts discovered and yet to be discovered. However, many of said artifacts are the targets of private collectors. One such example was “Monument 9: a 2,600-year-old carving in stone of a jaguar’s gaping face, roughly five feet wide and tall and weighing one ton” (Shortell 2023). The stone is believed to be dated from 800-400 BC or the Middle Preclassic period which is the highpoint of the Olmec site of Chalcatzingo where it was found (Exteriores 2023). Around 60 years ago the stone was looted from Chalcatzingo and brought to the United States, entering a network of private collections. The stone remained fascinating to scholars as it was believed to be used as a portal to the underworld for priests and rulers, however due to the stone’s absence and lack of pictures it was not readily studied (Stross 1996:85).  

The Chalcatzingo site where Monument 9 was found and subsequently looted from. It is an Olmec site south of Mexico City.

Not until recently were Mexican officials able to track down the stone and have it returned. “In March…U.S. authorities notified Mexican officials that they had seized the stone after tracking it to a warehouse in Denver. And in May the carving returned home in style, escorted by military vehicles from the airport in Cuernavaca, Mexico, to a nearby regional museum” (Shortell 2023). This is just one of many artifacts being returned to to Mexico in their repatriation campaign, aptly named “My Heritage is not for Sale”, where some 13,000 artifacts have been recovered since the campaign began in 2019.

The repatriation of these artifacts is incredibly important to Mexico’s culture. Every object returned is a piece of their rich history preserved. As successful as Mexico’s campaign is, there is still much to be done globally. Hopefully soon other nations will find success in their endeavors to recover the material culture that rightfully belongs to them.

Additional Reading on Repatriation:


Exteriores, S. de R. 2023. Chalcatzingo Monument 9 to be repatriated to Mexico. Retrieved from

Garcia, David Alire. 2023. Back in Mexico, “earth monster” sculpture points to ancient beliefs. Retrieved from

La Follette, Laetitia. 2016. Looted antiquities, art museums and restitution in the United States since 1970. Journal of Contemporary History, 52(3), 669–687. doi:10.1177/0022009416641198

Shortell, David, & Carrasquero, Marian. 2023. Stone by ancient stone, Mexico recovers its lost treasures. Retrieved from

Stross, Brian. (1996). The Mesoamerican Cosmic Portal: An early Zapotec example. Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 29–30, 82–101. doi:10.1086/resvn1ms20166944

Discovery of a 1000 Year Old Mummy in Residential Peru

When one considers the anthropological significance of Peru, most likely the mountain dwelling culture of the Incan Empire comes to mind. Sites such as Machu Picchu have garnered most academics’ attention when studying the ancient civilizations of South America. As someone who has gone to Peru and visited Machu Picchu myself, I cannot understate the magnificence of the site and the culture that erected it; however, it is unwise to think that it is the only incredible archaeological discovery in Peru.

Above is one pyramid found at the Huaca Pucllana site, where the mummy was discovered.

On the coast of Peru, a country renowned for its picturesque mountains and valleys, is the capital city of Lima. At first glance it appears, like many other modern South American cities, to have colonial heritage with many of the buildings being remnants of Spanish conquest. However, in the middle of Lima’s affluent Miraflores district lies the Huaca Pucllana site, belonging to the Ychsma culture that occupied the area over a thousand years ago. Recently, a mummy dating back to the beginning of the Ychsma settlement of the area was discovered surrounded by ceramics and textiles. According to the head archaeologist of the site, Mirella Ganoza: “The uncovered mummy lived possibly as long as a millennium ago, at the beginning of the Ychsma culture that developed on the central coast of modern Peru during a period of social reorganization prior to the arrival of the Incas to the area”.

Pictured above is the Huaca Pucllana site found in the middle of the Miraflores district in present day Lima.

This discovery can be interpreted in a few different ways. Firstly, being in the middle of a city, it affects the normative perception of archaeology occurring in remote places. Differing very much from the standard archaeological site that one may think of, this site has been lived over for centuries. It is a drastic difference from the popular culture idea of sites being abandoned or untouched by humanity for many years. Ganoza highlights this in their address to the media stating: “I find it quite interesting that right in the heart of Miraflores, in the middle of the city, surrounded by modern buildings and constructions, an important site is still preserved, the Huaca Pucllana ceremonial center”. If this is the case, is it possible that there are other sites in urban developments that are yet to be found? It is exciting to imagine there are major archeological discoveries yet to be discovered could plausibly be right under our feet.

Beyond the discovery’s future implications of further excavations, it changes the general public’s perception of South American history and Anthropology. The site sheds light on the cultures that tend to be neglected when discussing South American history. The Ychsma, who are credited with building at least 16 pyramids in the area similar to the one the mummy was discovered, are believed to have dominated the central coast of Peru until the rise of the Inca Empire. Drastically different from the story of the Incans, the discovery of Ychsma sites paints a very different picture about the ancient history of Peru and the Andes region. Hopefully, with more discoveries like this we can begin to articulate the stories of lesser known ancient civilizations of the Americas in a manner these fascinating cultures deserve.

References/additional reading: