A Houston division of Homeland Security Investigations said it sent back more than 900 artifacts believed to be stolen from Mali. Among them are artifacts that may date back to the Neolithic era.
Investigators said that they had become aware of the artifacts in 2009, when U.S. Customs halted a container that arrived in Houston. The container was shipped to the U.S. under the guise that it contained replica cultural artifacts. But agents turned suspicious when they realized that the objects held within appeared to be real—and that those artifacts “were covered in blood and fecal matter,” according to Homeland Security.
When they looked into the objects further, they discovered that some dated back multiple millennia. Among them were funerary urns, axe heads, vessels, and stones. Susan McIntosh, an anthropologist at Rice University, was brought in to research the objects and to issue a report.
The process to begin repatriating the cache of artifacts began in 2009. A handful of objects headed back in 2011 and 2012, though Homeland Security said that a civil war that began in Mali in 2012 prevented the majority of the artifacts from being returned.
Mark Dawson, an agent with Houston division of Homeland Security, said in a statement, “A nation’s cultural property and antiquities define who they are as a people. No one has the right to loot or destroy that heritage and history.”
The New York Times reported that the objects would now head to institutions. Mohamed Traore, an adviser with Mali’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, told the Times that the National Museum of Mali in Bamako was among those institutions.