Documents from the colonial era stolen from the national archives of Mexico Back to home | Smart News

The cache of newly returned items includes 15 manuscript papers and a small collection of looted antiques.
Consulate General of Mexico in Nueva York via Facebook

Thanks to a group of eagle-eyed scholars, a treasure trove of stolen colonial-era documents has been returned to Mexico City.

Unidentified thieves smuggled 16th-century papers from Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) in a multi-year “systematic” operation, Raúl Cortés Fernández reports for Reuters. Researchers first raised concerns about a possible burglary after noting that some of the documents in the archives inexplicably appeared at auction in 2017.

Most of the manuscripts have direct links to Hernán Cortés, leader of the Spanish forces that invaded the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, waged war on the indigenous peoples of the region and initiated the colonization of modern Mexico.

US authorities returned the documents at a ceremony held last Thursday at the Mexican Consulate in New York, according to a statement posted on Facebook. As Adyr Corral reports for the Mexican newspaper Milenio, the cache of stolen goods includes 15 handwritten papers, as well as a small collection of looted antiques that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recovered during its investigation.

“This is one of the largest document recoveries in Mexican history,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said at Thursday’s event, by Milenio (as translated via Google Translate).

The pages were cut from their original binding, smuggled out of the archives and sold illegally through big auction houses like Christie’s and Bonhams. They raised tens of thousands of dollars at auction, notes Rosa Vilchis for Televisa Notice.

Academics first raised questions about the provenance of the items auctioned in 2017. The lots – royal decrees, legal documents, and even a rare letter with Cortés’ own signature – looked eerily like documents that were supposed to be kept. in Mexico City archives, as Drazen Jorgic and Cortés reported for Reuters in May.

Among the experts who noticed the discrepancies were the philologist Michel Oudijk and the historian Sebastián van Doesburg, both of the National Autonomous University of Mexico; María Isabel Grañén Porrúa, Mexican specialist in colonial history; Rodrigo Martinez Baracs, historian at the National Institute of Anthropology of Mexico (INAH); and María del Carmen Martínez from the University of Valladolid in Spain.

The group contacted Mexican authorities in 2018 and 2019 but received few responses. Then the researchers took matters into their own hands, launching an amateur investigation that identified at least ten papers from AGN’s Cortés collections that had been auctioned off in the United States.

The researchers compared the images from the auction listings to AGN microfilm recordings and other sources. Martínez even used photos of manuscripts she took on research trips to the archives in 2010 and 2014.

We are very worried, not only about this theft, but also about all the other thefts and looting of the national heritage.

News of the theft series finally made headlines in September 2020, when New York-based Swann Auction Galleries announced plans to sell a 1521 royal order addressed to Cortés and Pedro de Alvarado, which has been identified. like the mayor of Tenochtitlán, for Mexico Daily News. Historians have raised concerns and halted sale of the document, prompting Mexican and US authorities to open a formal investigation into the fate of the other documents, as Spanish news service Agencia EFE reported in May.

Housed in a gargantuan former prison in Mexico City, the National Archives have been plagued by allegations of theft and lax security for years, notes Elizabeth Mistry for the Art journal. In talking to Lauren Villagran about El Paso schedules Last October, Oudijk said: “Any researcher who has been there and who reads this story will say: ‘It is an inside job. “

Michael Swanton, linguist at the National Autonomous University, added: “Obviously the person doing this had some idea of ​​what they were looking at. Obviously, the person is part of a network to bring them to New York, and someone knew how to subdivide them into different auction houses.

The confirmed flights are “outrageous,” Porrúa told Reuters in May. “We are very worried, not only by this theft, but also by all the other thefts and looting of national heritage.”

Speak Art journal, the current director of AGN, Carlos Ruíz, called the thefts “wholesale looting of the National Archives for commercial purposes”.


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About Margaret L. Portillo

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