Two Novohispanic books and 20 pre-Hispanic pieces are returned to Mexico

Two books from New Spain, from the 17th and 18th centuries, stolen during the US intervention in Mexico (1847-1848), as well as a batch of pre-Columbian pieces from various Mesoamerican cultures, were returned to Mexico through the Secretary of Foreign Relations (SRE) and placed under the protection of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

“The lot of objects, the product of voluntary restitutions, is a sign of a change in mentality and binational cooperation, which has a positive impact on the knowledge of a historical moment that defined the destinies of both countries,” said the SRE and the Ministry of Culturein a joint statement.

In the process of returning the printed matter, the initiative of the Monmouth County Historical Association (MCHA) of New Jersey, a non-profit organization that has a collection donated in 1933 by a descendant of the military, stands out. James Wall Schureman (1822-1852), who fought in the US invasion of Mexico, culminating in the capture of Mexico City in mid-September 1847.

From this collection come the two repatriated volumes, to which is added a third that was returned to Mexico at the beginning of last February. It is worth mentioning the determination of the author Rick Geffken who, visiting the MCHA library two years ago, noticed the origin of these books and, since then, together with members of said historical association, contacted the consul general of Mexico in New York, Jorge Islas López, to manage his return.

The deputy director of the Register of Movable Archaeological Monuments of the INAH, Jaime Alejandro Bautista Valdespino, points out that all three documents show the same note in English on the first page: “The family of James Wall Schureman Campbell / nephew of James Wall Schureman, first lieutenant in the United States Army, serving with General Winfield S. Scott in the war against Mexico / This book taken from a palace in Mexico City”. It is known that, once the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty was signed, US troops left the Mexican capital on June 12, 1848.

Archaeologist Bautista Valdespino comments that one of the two recently repatriated books dates from 1714. In it, the merits of “licenciado DON FELIPE Rodriguez de Ledefma, Cornejo, Núñez de Prado, and Zúñiga: Canonigo de los oldest of the Santa Igefia Cathedral of the City of Angels in New-Efpaña […]”, and an extensive family tree is attached. The form ends with the following sentence: “With license in Puebla: by the widow of Miguel de Ortega.”

The second volume deals with the hydraulic system of the basin of Mexico, containing a “General Regulation of Water Measurements”, in its middle part, and a fold-out map of the region. It is necessary to emphasize that it actually integrates three forms from different periods, all bound, the first is from 1637 and the others date from the 18th century, in which the flooding problems of the capital of New Spain are based.

About the third book, dated 1715, which was repatriated two months ago, the archaeologist indicates that in its first pages it reads: “Pious Work Foundation for Student Support…” and, according to the Monmouth County Historical Association , contains guidelines for the dedication of a school by José de la Puente y Peña, who crossed the Atlantic to Mexico at the age of 15 and would become known as the Marquis de la Villapuente, a character who earned the empathy of the then king Charles II.

Photo: INAH

Two millennia of Mesoamerican history

Regarding the pre-Hispanic pieces, the specialist of the INAH Public Registry Directorate, Pablo Daniel López Sánchez, explained that they come mainly from the cultural areas of the Gulf Coast and the Central Highlands, and cover a time span of two millennia, which It goes from the Preclassic to the Late Postclassic period, that is, from the year 600 BC, to the centuries close to Spanish contact.

There are two small mortars carved in volcanic rock, from the Queretaro highlands, fragments of seals and anthropomorphic figurines from the traditional shaft tombs of western Mexico; as well as the Totonac styles —known as “smiley faces”— and Teotihuacan, dating from the Mesoamerican Classic period (400-900 AD), the archaeologist points out.

From the group stands out a sculpture made of rock, possibly diorite, whose dimensions are 23.5 cm high, 14.5 cm wide and 7.5 cm thick. It represents a standing nude male figure wearing a headdress and sharing features of the Teotihuacan style, developed in the Mesoamerican Classic period. It is worth mentioning that, as part of the restitution, three fragmented figurines from the early colonial period are included.

The set of archaeological pieces and historical books was repatriated, via diplomatic bag, through a management carried out by the Legal Consultancy of the Foreign Ministry and the Consulate General of Mexico in New York. The goods were kept under the protection of the Directorate of the Public Registry of Monuments and Archaeological and Historical Zones of the INAH, an instance that will carry out the due public registration of the monuments that may be registered in the Unique Public Registry Systemfor further investigation and conservation by specialists from the institute.

These pieces and books are added to the 5,865 archaeological and historical assets that have been repatriated to Mexico from 2019 to date, thanks to the establishment of bilateral agreements on cooperation for the restitution of cultural assets that the Mexican government has reached with the United States, China, Guatemala, Belize, Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Uruguay, Switzerland, Italy, Saint Lucia, among other countries.

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