By DAVID KIDWELL
Herald Staff Writer
When three U.S. Customs inspectors in Miami pried open the lid of a 572-pound
wooden crate marked ``Peruvian handicrafts,'' they found a heart-stopping
mystery crossing two millenniums, three continents and the plundered tombs of
ancient Peruvian mummies.
Today, three years later, the contents of that crate -- including millions
of dollars in
intricate golden artifacts, rare and beautiful ancient textiles and headdresses, even a
female mummy head in a wool turban dating back to 200 years before Christ --
are beginning their journey home.
But their whole story may never be told.
``These grave-robbers are after money, but in a very large way they have
much more than relics,'' said Carol Damian, a Florida International University art
historian who helped discover the artifacts. ``Even though we have them back,
without knowing exactly where and how they were found, there is no way their
story can be told.
``In many ways, the academic and scientific value is gone,'' she said.
are just artifacts -- very beautiful, significant artifacts.''
The U.S. Customs Service in Miami has called a news conference for 2 p.m.
today to officially give back to the Peruvian government 208 relics found during
the routine Feb. 24, 1995, inspection at a Lufthansa Airlines warehouse at Miami
Records obtained by The Herald say the three-foot by five-foot by four-foot
came from Lima, Peru, on a Lufthansa cargo flight on Feb. 2, 1995, with a
manifest that listed its contents as 120 pounds of ``Peruvian handicrafts'' bound for
Switzerland and valued at $2,764.
``It didn't take us very long to figure out this was a lot more than handicrafts,''
one Customs source. ``We don't run across this kind of stuff all the time.''
Until they were uncovered in Miami by senior Customs Inspectors Luis Marcos,
John Markovic and Wayne Russell, the artifacts had never been documented,
leading experts to believe they were plundered from a variety of officially
undiscovered tombs ranging from 200 B.C. to 1500 A.D.
Peruvian authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the man they believe
the artifacts, Rolando Rivas-Rivadeneyra, of Lima, who remains at-large charged
with exporting artifacts from Peru without the necessary permission and
Customs has also investigated those who were to receive the crate in Zurich,
Switzerland. No charges have been filed, records show.
Peruvians have long lamented the rampant plundering of ancient tombs and
archaeological sites, according to Walter Alva, a Peruvian archaeologist who
fought grave-robbers to save the famous tomb of the Lord of Sipan in 1987.
Officials of the National Institute of Culture estimate $800 million each
made on the illegal sale of plundered artifacts from pre-Columbian civilizations
such as Sipan, Mochica, Chancay, Chimu, Inca, Nazca and others.
``We're fighting an international mafia,'' Alva told The Herald in 1991.
country is so poor we don't have the resources to wage a fair fight. . . . Reason
and truth are on our side, and they'll triumph over money.''
Alva was called in by Customs and local experts to help identify the seized
``You could set up a museum with just these artifacts,'' he said, just
after his first
inspection in June.
Meticulously wrapped and stuffed in newspapers and individual boxes: a
mummified forearm and hand with a blue tattoo dating from the 13th Century; a
solid gold ritual rattle from the 200s; a gold-filled copper fox head, inlaid with shell
eyes, tongue sticking out, possibly a hunting headdress; wooden ear plugs;
feathered capes; clay pottery; ancient metalwork; even an ornamental child's wool
News of the find quickly spread to include Peruvian National Police and
scientific community. Even before they head home, many of the artifacts are on
their way to Florida International Museum of St. Petersburg, where they will be
part of a Empires of Mystery exhibit from Oct. 23 until the spring.
So significant is the underworld traffic of these artifacts, the museum
has included a
replica of the Miami warehouse as a backdrop for the exhibit.
``I'm just delighted for this opportunity,'' said Vera Espinosa, the museum's
curator. ``And it's an absolutely fantastic opportunity for us to show what U.S.
Customs is doing to intercept these antiquities.
``It's so sad how they are being spirited from Peru, especially the mummies,''
Espinosa said. ``But I don't feel cursed by them all. I feel blessed to just see
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