Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | February 12, 2013

Colombians want Germany to return ancient artifacts.

Colombia’s most important archaeological zone, San Agustin, located in Huila province, was once a sacred place of pilgrimage and ancestors worship, as evidenced by the remaining ancient tracks, field boundaries, drainage ditches, artificial platforms, and funerary monuments. And to protect the funeral rooms, the monolithic sarcophagus and the burial sites, there were as many as 300 stone-carved sculptures  of guards, some more than four meters high and weighing several tonnes. The sculptures were of divinities with threatening faces, warriors armed with clubs, and mythical heroes with round eyes and jaguars’ teeth.

In 1913 and 1914, the German archeologist Konrad Preuss conducted excavations in the San Agustin region. In 1918, after World War I, Preuss took 35 stone statues back to Germany, some of which are currently on display at Berlin’s Ethnological Museum.

The statues in Berlin have feline or reptile characteristics which resemble “supernatural” figures, and the Swiss author Erich von Daniken wrote about them as possible evidence of extraterrestrial visitors.

But now about 1,800 residents of the San Agustin region have signed a petition to urge Colombia’s government to make a formal request for the return of the artifacts.

The effort is led by a U.S. expat, David Dellenback, who has lived in Colombia for more than 35 years. Dellenback is a coffee farmer and an archaeological investigator. He has written two books on San Agustin’s ancient stone statues. You can download one of his books, “El Pueblo Escultor,” here.

Of Preuss, Dellenback said, “He was not an archaeologist — he wanted plunder. I consider him and others like him the spiritual followers of the conquistadors. He wanted to get his hands on artifacts.”

There is a precedence: Peru persuaded Yale University to return artifacts from Machu Picchu taken by explorer Hiram Bingham in 1912.


  1. Fascinating article. Next time I’m in Berlin I will surely pay them a visit. As for the subject in hand, I don’t believe there is an automatic right to have these items returned. And they received far more care in German hands than were they were abandoned. Interesting none the less. Please keep us informed.

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