Stolen Maya mask returning to Guatemala from Belgium


And after a 12 year battle over the piece, this is the first I’m hearing of the case.

I’m learning Dutch as an adult. The reaction I get to that here in the Netherlands is usually: “Oh how nice! But, really, why bother?”. True, upwards of 90% of the population of the Netherlands speaks English, with a majority speaking it very well; and true I am never going to speak Dutch as well as any random Dutch person can speak English. However I have a tiny son who, in 7 months here, already has his daycare convinced that he’s fluent, and I can’t bear the thought of not being part of the Dutch half of his life.

Languages have never come easy to me and there is no evidence that Dutch will be any exception, but I’m making a real effort. One way I am practicing now is “intensive reading” of media articles that are of interest to me, learning every single word in them. Yesterday I was searching for something arty to read when I found this:

België geeft gestolen Maya-masker terug aan Guatemala

Wait what? What mask?

…this Mask.

According to the article, which I intensively read, this is the end result of a 12-year legal battle over this mask. A legal battle that I know nothing at all about. Perhaps this is what I miss by not previously knowing how to read Dutch (or Flemish). According to the article, because the legal battle dragged on so long, five Belgians cannot now be prosecuted for fraud and forgery (interesting!), and because there seems to be a dead end for anything criminal, Belgium is sending the mask back to Guatemala in September.

The article is totally lacking in information that would allow me to find out more about this case, save the name of Guatemala’s consul, Guy San Bartolome who is on LinkedIn. The only other article about this case out now is in French and is as unhelpful about the case as the Flemish piece.

I’m especially intrigued that Belgium was looking to prosecute these five mystery people for fraud and forgery. My first thought on seeing the mask was “…huh hmm, I dunno.” Maya masks are a favourite to fake, and this one looks rather unsightly. However it isn’t a good photo and even the Maya had a bad art day now and again. The fraud charges may stem from some sort of undervaluing scheme, and Guatemala’s consul claims in the article that it’s worth more than £200,000 (dunno about that). Yet, my intensive reading says that “vervalsing” is forgery.

The point of this blog post? Well, it is mostly a hubris check for me. I think I have a good idea of what is going on in my field, at least when it concerns Maya material, but there was and is so much antiquities-related crime that I can’t reasonably keep up. Twelve years of Maya-mask battle and I’m hearing about it just this week.

If you know more about the story behind this case, please do let me know. Next week I may brush off my Spanish and email colleagues in Guatemala to ask more.