Olmec ‘Earth Monster’ Head Returned to Mexico from US

Photo: INAH


A massive, 2,500-year-old Olmec stone sculpture, alternately dubbed the “Earth Monster” and the “Infra-World Portal,” was returned to Mexico by U.S. authorities on Friday, May 19, the Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE) announced.

According to the SRE, the artifact was removed illegally from Chalcatzingo, a lesser-known archeological site in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City, in the early 1960s and smuggled into the United States.

It was last on public display in New York’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994, and sometime later made its way into the hands of an unnamed private collector in Colorado.

With an estimated $12 million value, the sculpture was seized earlier this month by U.S. federal authorities following a long-term investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office into stolen Olmec antiquities.

The two-meter-high sculpture was handed over to Mexican officials in Denver, Colorado, on Friday afternoon and immediately shipped back to Mexico City.

Carved out of volcanic rock sometime between 800 B.C. and 400 B.C., the Earth Monster sculpture is believed to represent the mouth of a mythical pre-Hispanic monster that was big enough to swallow people, although some archeologists have said it represents a symbolic entrance to the underworld.

The Olmec civilization, considered to be Mexico’s mother culture, thrived around the Veracruz and Tabasco coastal region and was famous for its giant flat-faced heads.

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