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An ornate, cylindrical incense burner, or censer, dating from as early as 500CE, has been returned to the government of Mexico by Crystal Orlando, a private citizen in Austin, Texas.

Mexico’s consul general Pablo Marentes received the artefact in a ceremony in central Texas on 20 August after an initial inspection revealed that the object is made of clay and shares characteristics with similar censers found in the ancient Mayan city-state of Palenque, modern-day southeastern Mexico. Palenque is known for containing some of the finest examples of architecture, sculpture and heiroglyphs in the Mayan visual pantheon. Experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) believe it may date from between 500CE and 700CE.

The recovered incense burner, packed for repatriation to Mexico

The artefact was located by artist Crystal Orlando, who handed it over to the Mexican consulate in Austin during Sunday’s repatriation Sunday, Mexico News Daily reported. Once the item arrives back in Mexico, the INAH will begin thorough conservation efforts and archaelogical analysis.

The ceremony in Austin coincided with an exhibition of photographs by the artist Roj Rodriguez, which will remain on view in the gallery of the Consulate General of Mexico in Austin until October.

The censer’s return is another chapter in Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s campaign to recover national cultural heritage from abroad. His administration’s approach, #MiPatrimonioNoSeVende (#My Heritage Is Not For Sale), pairs lawsuit filings against auction houses with online awareness of international repatriation struggles. Since Obrador took office in 2018, more than 11,500 pieces have been returned to Mexico. Recent recoveries include repatriations from France, the Netherlands, and Germany.

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