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New Mexico museum foundation returns Indigenous artifacts to Mexican government

file image: shaft tomb figure indigenous to Mexico
(Andrew Rodgers/Albuquerque Museum Foundation via The AP) Andrew Rodgers AP
This 2022 photo provided by the Albuquerque Museum Foundation shows a shaft tomb figure indigenous to Mexico, in Albuquerque, N.M. It's among a dozen sculptures that the Albuquerque Museum Foundation is returning to Mexico in a ceremony Wednesday, July 27, 2022. The objects were discovered sitting in a box in storage over five months earlier.

Small, ancient sculptures that have been held in a storage box in Albuquerque are returning home to Mexico. The dozen items were given to the Mexican government in a ceremony Wednesday in New Mexico.

The Olmec greenstone sculptures, Zacatecas figure and other objects are intertwined with the identity of Indigenous communities.

Private donors gave the artifacts to the Albuquerque Museum Foundation in 2007. The Foundation recently began looking into their origins. Mexican officials say these pieces are important elements of memory and identity.

Their return comes as communities push for museums and other institutions to repatriate items that are of historic, cultural and sacred value to Indigenous people and tribes.

Tribes in South Dakota are also working with a museum in Massachusetts to return hundreds of items believed to have been taken from ancestors massacred at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890.

A federal database shows some 870,000 items that should be returned to tribes by law are still in the possession of colleges, museums and other institutions across the country.