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United States returns to Chile patrimonial assets that were going to be auctioned at an auction house

Friday, February 11, 2022

In a ceremony held today at the Embassy of Chile in Washington D.C., United States, and with the presence of Ambassador Alfonso Silva and representatives of the Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a series of Chilean patrimonial goods that were intercepted from an auction house in the city of Philadelphia by agents of the U.S. Government were returned, after the official claim made by our country, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

There are four textile pieces: a truncated cone-shaped cap woven in the aduja technique, which is very common in archaeological cemeteries on the coast of Arica and Tarapacá from the so-called Late Pre-Hispanic period of Inka influence (between 1,350 and 1,540 years AD); two girdle bags whose morphology, technology and iconography are very common in textiles from archaeological cemeteries on the coast and in the valleys of Arica and Camarones, from the Late Pre-Hispanic period of Inka influence. ); two bags whose morphology, technology and iconography are very frequent in textiles from archaeological cemeteries on the coast and in the valleys of Arica and Camarones, from the Late Intermediate and Late Pre-Hispanic periods (between 1. 100 to 1,540 A.D.); and a textile cap, woven with a knotted technique, similar to the 4-pointed caps, which could come from the Pica or Tarapacá Oasis, corresponding to the Middle and Late Intermediate pre-Hispanic periods (between 900 to 1,540 A.D.).

For the Minister (s) of Foreign Affairs, Carolina Valdivia, "the delivery of these heritage items undoubtedly reinforces the value and importance of bilateral agreements and collaboration. Thanks to the coordinated work of the FBI, the Ministry of Cultures and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, today our country is recovering these pieces of great heritage value, which are an important part of our history".

The Minister (s) of Cultures, Arts and Heritage, Juan Carlos Silva, highlighted that "the materialization of the restitution of these heritage assets to Chile is the result of the inter-institutional coordination against the trafficking of cultural property led by this Ministry of Cultures and, especially, the high technical skills of the Unit against the Illicit Trafficking of Heritage Assets of our National Cultural Heritage Service".

These textile objects are considered National Monuments and property of the Chilean State in accordance with Law 17.288 on National Monuments which in its Article 21° provides that "by the sole ministry of the law, are Archaeological Monuments owned by the State the places, ruins, and anthropo-archaeological sites and pieces that exist on or under the surface of the national territory".

During the delivery ceremony, Ambassador Alfonso Silva, along with expressing his thanks to the State Department and the FBI, highlighted the excellent collaborative relationship between the two countries, reflected in the restitution of these pieces, thanks to the Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Imposition of Restrictions on the Importation of Certain Categories of Archaeological Materials from Chile.

It is worth highlighting the management carried out by the technical agencies of the Chilean State, which reported on the suspicion of illicit transfer of these four heritage items and requested the international alert made to the United States, within the framework of the 1970 UNESCO Convention against illicit trafficking in cultural property and the Memorandum of Understanding between Chile and the United States, concerning the Imposition of Restrictions on the Importation of Certain Categories of Archaeological Materials from Chile, signed in 2020. Likewise, the quick and positive reaction of the United States to the Chilean request was key, which ended with the collaboration of the auction house and the consignees, for the voluntary restitution of the pieces, concluding with the reintegration of the national monuments to the Chilean State in the ceremony held at the Chilean Embassy in the United States.

Identification and analysis of objects

The cultural objects were part of an auction scheduled for September 2021 in the city of Philadelphia, which was detected on the Internet by officials of the National Cultural Heritage Service, belonging to the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage. They requested by official letter to the Technical Secretariat of the Council of National Monuments the analysis of the photographic and descriptive background corresponding to this auction of textile, ethnographic, Asian and antique arts, corroborating the legal protection of three textiles, as National Monuments in the category of Chilean Archaeological Monuments.

Subsequently, the International Affairs Unit of the Ministry of Cultures sent a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to request support from the U.S. State Department, which accepted the request and acted swiftly to prevent the sale.

In the development of this case, the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage also highlighted the willingness of the consignees of the pieces to remove them from the commercial circuit, understanding the protection as archaeological and heritage in their place of origin.

Likewise, the community is reminded that places, ruins and anthropo-archeological sites and pieces, which exist on or under the surface of the national territory, are Archeological Monuments and are under the custody and protection of the State. The extraction and misappropriation is considered a crime and causes irreparable damage to the heritage of our country.