Rare Pre-Columbian Discoveries

Rare Pre-Columbian Discoveries

Map of Pre-Columbian Civilizations around 1000BC  in the Americas WikipediaCommons.org

Map of Pre-Columbian Civilizations around 1000BC in the Americas

Rare Pre-Columbian discoveries have been made recently in some surprising places.  So, where have they surfaced?  And, how can you make your own discovery?

These unexpected discoveries resulted from a drug bust, an auction, an old archeological (archaeological) site and the technology of drones.

Pre-Columbian civilization is an important part of Hispanic/Latin culture.  Why?  Because Pre-Columbian culture permeates many Latin societies today through its art, family structure, food, language, music, and oral traditions.  Many Latin societies today identify with their Pre-Columbian heritage in various degrees.

Most every Hispanic country has a Pre-Columbian past.  For example, Mexico has the Aztecs and Mayans.  For Central Americans it’s the Mayan and many other native cultures.  For Peru it’s the Inca and others…and so on and so on.

What is Pre-Columbian?

For those of you not familiar with the Pre-Columbian era, it refers to the history and culture (language and art) of the native populations that existed in the Americas prior to the European arrival.

Just in the last decade, new archeological sites have been discovered.

Artifacts from this period have surfaced in unexpected places.  Today, I’ll briefly cover just three countries affected and how each one is a unique situation; Mexico, Colombia, and Peru.

If you want a more detailed story, read the next Hispanicus newsletter.  But first, a little background regarding Pre-Columbian art and the challenge to preserve it for future generations to learn and enjoy.

Major Art Thefts Complicate the Matter

There are many Pre-Columbian art thefts dating back to the 1970’s.  Theft and robbery from museums, private collections, and original archeological sites are numerous.  Theft complicates tracking and identification of important historical artifacts in the following ways.

First, legal protections were enacted after massive plundering of archeological sites.  So-called stolen art is not considered stolen if the current owner registered these artifacts according to the laws in each Latin country.  Mexico’s 1972 law is an example of that.

Second, the value and authenticity of these pieces of art are diminished because they were taken from the original site without documentation.  In many cases, but not all, these important sites are mined by local people for their source of income – like a personal “ATM.”

Third, certain artifacts may have been “modernized” for one reason or another to sell or mask their origin. This severely diminishes the value also.

Fourth, there’s a huge “black market” for artifacts despite the law because private individuals buy from proxies and hold them in their private collection away from the public eye.

And last, the auction houses themselves contribute to the “value” of these pieces through validation and an inflationary bid process.  Thus, these multi-million dollar businesses create both supply and demand.

A Huge Legal Market Prospers

You simply have to surf the net and you’ll see how many objects are for sale.  It’s still a hot market, given the fact that these art works have a finite source and law enforcement has risen.

Three recent discoveries have again brought public attention to the challenge of saving important Pre-Columbian heritage that is an essential part of Hispanic/Latin culture.

Three Recent Important Discoveries


Monster mouth doorway at Lagunita Photo by Ivan Sprajc http://news.discovery.com/history/archaeology/three-ancient-maya-cities-found-in-jungle-140815.htm

Monster mouth doorway at Lagunita
Photo by Ivan Sprajc http://news.discovery.com

One of the most recent and exciting discoveries has been found in the Yucatan jungle in Mexico.

Archeologists discovered the two cities of Lagunita and Tamchen which are from the Late and Terminal Classic periods of Pre-Columbian History (600-1000 A.D.).

It’s interesting to note that this find was next to an original discovery in the 1970’s.


Inscription dated Nov. 29, 711 A.D. by a Lord of 4 K'atuns Photo by Ivan Sprajc http://news.discovery.com

Inscription dated Nov. 29, 711 A.D. by a Lord of 4 K’atuns
Photo by Ivan Sprajc

These are literally untouched ancient Mayan cities that include stone monuments, temple pyramids, inscriptions, and the remains of huge structures buried in the Yucatan jungle in the Mexican state of Campeche.

The real challenge is to continue the proper security of the site long enough for archeologists and anthropologists to finish a complete survey of the location.  It’s a challenge when serious money is at stake.


Sample of Pre-Columbian artifacts returned to Colombia Photo by telesurenglish-Twitter www.latinpost.com

Pre-Columbian artifacts returned to Colombia
Photo by telesurenglish-Twitter

Okay, here’s a senario.  A drug bust off the coast of Spain by Spanish authorities with the help of DEA drones yielded hundreds of pounds of cocaine and a huge cargo of rare Pre-Columbian artifacts from Colombia.

Most folks may agree that current drug enforcement is not the solution to the illegal drug trade, but this action resulted in a bonanza of Pre-Columbian artifacts illegally smuggled out of Colombia.



Auction anyone?  A more sophisticated method of smuggling Pre-Columbian artifacts is through a private art collection.  For instance, the Barbier-Mueller private collection became the subject of an investigation by the Peruvian government at a Sotheby’s sale in Paris.

Lot 26 of Sotheby's Auction Sale in Paris httpitsartlaw.com

Lot 26 of Sotheby’s Auction Sale in Paris

The collection contained some 67 pieces of Pre-Columbian artifacts from the Chimu, Mochica, Inca, Nazca, and Chavin cultures.

The sale was expected to bring around 20 million but only achieved about half of that due to the negative press around Peruvian government claims.  This is one of the events that has made auction houses more sensitive and diligent about their decision to sell rare Pre-Columbian artifacts in the future.

Fortunately, Peru’s ancient heritage archeologists have ushered in the 21st century by employing drones in Peru to map and protect sites.

So Why Should We Care?

Pre-Columbian artifacts are a critical part of Hispanic/Latin culture.  The preservation of these artifacts is essential so that everyone may enjoy and marvel at the ancient civilizations they represent.  Hopefully, we’ll see some more rare Pre-Columbian discoveries in the near future.

Short of a world-wide marketing campaign discouraging the dealing of these rare Pre-Columbian artifacts, the sale of legal and illegal artifacts will continue.  It’s about a 2 billion dollar industry, and that’s just legal sales.  It’s the same story - as we say in the U.S.A., “money talks and B.S. walks.”

We’ll see.  Governments and non-profit organizations worldwide are making the theft of Pre-Columbian art more difficult to continue unchallenged.

It’s just nice to know that some billionaires can’t hoard everything.

Discover on Your Own

There are plenty of touring companies out there dedicated to creating your own archeological experience.  Here are some companies you may want to check out.  Hispanic Globe does not endorse any of the following:









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