Mayan Urn Repatriation Scheduled for April 13

The Albion College Archives has been in possession of a unique Mayan Urn dating back to circa. 1525 A.D. This Tuesday, a repatriation ceremony will be held to return the Mayan Urn to its rightful place at the Museo de los Altos, in San Cristóbal, Mexico, where its twin currently resides (Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Palmer).

The Albion College Archives has been in possession of a unique Mayan Urn dating back to circa. 1525 A.D. This Tuesday, a repatriation ceremony will be held to return the Mayan Urn to its rightful place at the Museo de los Altos, in San Cristóbal, Mexico, where its twin currently resides.

“The actual definition [of Repatriation] is to return someone or something to their own country,” said Elizabeth Palmer, head of the Albion College Archives. “Recognizing that most pieces of history belong to a specific culture, to a specific country, a specific area and that area, that country should be the rightful owners of whatever object it might be.”

The Mayan Urn was donated to Albion College Archives by alumnus Marvin Van (‘40) back in 2003. At the time of the donation, discussions regarding the transaction had only begun four years prior. The rest of his donations include archival materials, photos, paper documents, slides and reproduction objects from his personal expeditions to Mexico.

“Everything else is very legitimate,” said Palmer. “It’s just this urn that is problematic, just in the fact that it is the real deal.”

Many of the steps to return this piece of Mexican culture to its rightful home began around 2009 when Dr. Joel Palka, who will be speaking at Tuesday’s ceremony, began researching the Marvin Van papers and discovered the archive’s possession of the urn. 

Palka was able to do this type of research on the Van papers through his connection to Brad Chase. With a group of his and Chase’s research students,  the researchers took clay samples from the urn and were able to determine its date of origin. It was through these clay samples that they were able to determine that the urn had an identical twin at the very museum to which Albion College will be sending the urn.

To put the ceremony of the urn’s return in place, the archives has been working with and the Mexican’s Consulate Office of Detroit in addition to Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia (INAH), also known as the National Institute of Anthropology and History. 

“There have been a lot of moving parts and a lot of different people involved all to make this happen,” said Palmer, “I’ve kind of been the communicator between everyone so we make sure everyone knows what is going on.”

This ceremony will feature a lecture from Palka about his research. In addition, Dr. Josuhé Lozada, an official from INAH, will speak about the cultural importance of this artifact. The council general from the Mexican Consults office will issue a speech as well, and live music from Mexican composers will be featured throughout.

“It’s really just representing the return of someone’s culture to them,” said Palmer, “Which is a really important thing, and I’m just happy to be a part of it in some way.”

The event will be occurring in person in Goodrich Chapel at 7 p.m.. If students are not comfortable with attending in person, the event will be live streamed via YouTube.

About Kenna Childress 16 Articles
Kenna Childress (she/her) is a junior from Berkley, Mich. She is currently working towards an English major and a Biochemistry minor, with law school intentions. She is a varsity Cross Country and Track athlete, and member of Delta Gamma and Sigma Tau Delta fraternities, Prentiss M. Brown honors college, and Albion College's Tour Guide Program.

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