A group of residents in the Andean community of San Agustin in Colombia is demanding that Germany return stone statues quietly taken by an archaeologist who did work in the area almost 100 years ago.
The archaeologist, Konrad Preuss, took 35 stone statues while he and a team of others scoured an area that is one of Colombia’s most archaeologically sacred spots, according to the Los Angeles Times. Now a group of residents have started a petition pleading for Germany to return the statues.
For 100 years, Colombia has never asked for them back. It has nothing to do with German reluctance and everything to do with the Colombian government's failure to even ask.
- David Dellenback
Little is known about the people who lived in San Agustin centuries ago and made the statues, which range in size from roughly 8 inches to about 23 feet. The statues are believed to have been made sometime between the sixth and 14th centuries.
The statues in Germany, which are in the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, are about 3 feet tall and 1,000 years old. A leading activist in the fight to return the archaeological treasures to Colombia told the Times he hopes they have as much success as Peru, which successfully fought Yale University to have Machu Picchu artifacts returned to the country.
"The possession of archaeological patrimony is an inalienable right of any community and doesn't go away with time," David Dellenback, an American who is the driving force behind the petition, told the Times.
Though Dellenback did note:
"For 100 years, Colombia has never asked for them back,” he said. “It has nothing to do with German reluctance and everything to do with the Colombian government's failure to even ask."
Whether Germany is the rightful owner of the statues is unclear. The laws for exportation of archeological items during that time period are vague.
Still, Dellenback and the other activists say they hope Germany returns them to who they think is the rightful owner – regardless of who has jurisdiction over it. And they want them in time for the 100 anniversary of the excavations, which occurred in 1913.
"The fact that the Colombian government has decided to celebrate Preuss,” Dellenback told the Times, “has made it patent that it has forgotten what should be the most important part of the celebrations: bringing the statues back.”