Home News Press Room Press Releases FBI Returns Pre-Columbian Artifacts to Panama

FBI Returns Pre-Columbian Artifacts to Panama

Washington, D.C. January 13, 2009
  • FBI National Press Office (202) 324-3691

Today the FBI returned to the government of Panama more than 100 ancient artifacts uncovered during an investigation conducted by the FBI’s Portland Division. Deputy Assistant Director Daniel D. Roberts, Criminal Investigative Division, presented the artifacts to Deputy Chief of Mission Abey Saied, Embassy of Panama, at a ceremony at FBI Headquarters.

The artifacts include a number of pottery pieces and gold works, including jewelry. Experts date many of the objects to the pre-Columbian period of 1100-1500 A.D. It is difficult to put a monetary value on the items, although some estimates range from $500-$3,000 per piece depending upon the item’s age, quality, and preservation status.

“The people of Panama have been deprived of the ability to view these unique items—part of their cultural heritage—and the FBI is pleased to play a role in returning them to the government of Panama today,” said Roberts.

The FBI’s investigation revealed that the widow of an amateur archeologist was storing the items in and around Klamath Falls, Oregon. The investigation showed that the individual acquired many of the items while working as a teacher on a U.S. military base in Panama during the 1980s. It was also during this time that he married his wife, then a Panamanian citizen. The two brought many of the items with them when they moved back to the U.S. in the late 1980s. Over the years, the couple sold some of the items at various markets and on the Internet. The Klamath Falls man died of natural causes in October 2004. No charges are expected.

The 1972 Panama Constitution and a 1982 Panamanian law make it illegal for any person to own antiquities from that country. Only the government of Panama may own such items, and give permission for archeological digs and/or transport of antiquities out of the country.