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Peruvian Artifact Repatriated

U.S. Department of Justice December 08, 2011
  • Office of Public Affairs (202) 514-2007/TDD (202)514-1888

WASHINGTON—A gold Moche monkey head was returned to the government of Peru today in a repatriation ceremony at the Peruvian Embassy in Washington, D.C., announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III for the District of Delaware.

The Moche culture flourished in Peru from the first through eighth centuries AD. Moche nobility were buried in tombs with important symbols of power, often made of gold. Due to the dry climate, the bodies and artifacts have been preserved through the years. In 1987, the royal tombs were discovered in northern Peru, including the Sipan region. Shortly thereafter, tomb raiders descended on the sites, looking for gold. They found it, including the gold monkey head (circa 300 AD). The monkey head ended up in a private collection in the United States. The collector subsequently donated the monkey head to the Museum of New Mexico, Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, N.M.

Gold Moche monkey head that was returned to the government of Peru in a repatriation ceremony at the Peruvian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on December 8, 2011.
Gold Moche monkey head artifact that was returned to the government of Peru in a repatriation ceremony at the Peruvian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on December 8, 2011.

The Museum of New Mexico entered into a memorandum of understanding with the government of Peru to return the monkey head to its rightful place in Peru.

“This repatriation is the result of the joint efforts of this office, the FBI Art Crime Team, the Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the Museum of New Mexico,” said U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III. “I commend all parties for their efforts in producing this positive outcome. In particular, I commend the Museum of New Mexico for its selfless and noble action in returning this invaluable artifact to Peru. Artifacts like this Moche monkey head represent the history not only of the source country, in this case Peru, but the history of all mankind. We hope that this repatriation will help repair at least some of the damage caused by the looting of Moche sites.”

This matter was investigated by Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. Hall, who has an extensive history in handling cases involving ancient artifacts, who became involved in the investigation in 2007 in his capacity as special prosecutor, FBI Art Crime Team. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in this matter.