A huge carved Olmec statue has been recovered by Mexican officials, who believe the artifact was stolen decades ago, Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) announced this past weekend.
Jorge Islas, the consul general of Mexico in New York, was notified that the work had been recovered by the antiquities trafficking unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Mexico’s secretary of foreign affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, confirmed the news on Twitter, writing, “The Olmec piece most sought after by Mexico has been recovered and is about to return to its home, from where it should never have been stolen.”
Monument 9, as the statue has been called, measures roughly six feet tall and five feet wide, and weighs more than two thousand pounds. It originated from the prehistoric site Chalcatzingo in central Mexico, and likely dates back to the Middle Preclassic Period between 800–400 BCE.
Experts believe it depicts a common motif in Olmec iconography known as the earth monster. The sculpture’s open jaws symbolize the gateway to the underworld with three concentric bands around its mouth representing access to a cave. Four shapes in the corners of the mouth indicate bromeliad branches—a plant native to Chalcatzingo, which is depicted in other monuments from the site.
It remains unclear when and how the statue was removed, though it was already in the United States by 1968.
“This monument is a key piece for research on Olmec iconography, which is why we receive this news with joy and enthusiasm,” said archaeologist Mario Córdova Tello said in the INAH statement.