Mexico hits the jackpot

Miguel Leoff, an American dentist, had the largest private collection of pre-Columbian antiquities, mainly collected between 1940 and 1960 when it was still legal for individuals to purchase and own antiquities in Mexcio.

(Since 1972 all antiquities have been declared property of the state, although pre-existing collections were allowed to remain with the owners as long as they were itemized and declared.)

His widow has now donated that collection in its entirety to the Mexican government.

That’s 8100 pieces, from quarter-ton Toltec monoliths of Quetzalcoatl emerging from the jaws of a serpent to tiny clay figurines, donated on the sole condition that they remain together. Needless to say, Mexico had no problem agreeing to the terms.

“It literally took my breath away as I opened case after case to discover these objects in tortoiseshell, jade, serpentine and gold,” Xochicalco archeology director Marco Antonio Santos told a press conference.

Experts say it is the most spectacular private collection ever unveiled in Mexico given the number of artifacts, their variety and their general condition. […]

Among the most important pieces are a clay flute in the form of a bird, two Inca pottery pieces from Peru, a figure from Ecuador and a pottery figurine from Guatemala.

[Polemic interlude]You wouldn’t know this from reading the AP article because they avoid ugly realities that contradict their “ooh, shiny things!” theme, but this collection is fruit of the poisoned looting tree. One of the stele actually bears the marks of the chainsaw used to sever it from its wall.

Santos lamented this sad fact in the press conference, noting that removed from their original context, they’ve been stripped of much of their archaeological value and are now reduced to lovely but limited pieces of art.[/Polemic interlude]

Anyway, some pieces need restoration — there is evidence of crude repair attempts using dental materials — but overall the collection is in excellent condition.

They’re on display now at the Xochicalco Archaeological Site Museum in Xochicalco, Mexico. Once the collection is fully documented and restored, it is scheduled to go on the road.