The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Belgium gives back stolen Mayan mask to Guatemala

13:14 16/09/2020

Belgium has returned to its rightful home an ancient Mayan mask more than 1,000 years old. The green jade treasure had been stolen and exported illegally to Belgium by international traffickers, the Guatemalan minister of foreign affairs Sandra Erica Jovel Polanco said.

The mask dates from the years 600 to 900 in the Christian era. It represents Chac (or Chaac), the god of rain and thunder, also credited with bringing the essential maize plant to the Maya. The archaeological masterpiece is considered one of the most important of the Mayan era.

Serge Purini, expert at Brussels’ Royal Museum of Art and History, based at the Cinquantenaire park, has certified the authenticity of the mask that he claims is of “invaluable worth”. The mask was given back to Belgium’s Ambassador in Guatemala by Serge Lemaître, the curator of the Americas collection at the Brussels museum.

The recovery process of the precious object has been anything but quick. Following its seizure on 24 October 2008, the mask has been handed back after a 12-year court battle, the Guatemalan ministry said.

Today, the Maya people, numbering between eight and nine million, live in Southern Mexico and the northern part of Central America.

The Mayan age reached the peak of its power around the sixth century AD. Centered in the tropical lowlands of what is now Guatemala, the Mayas' influence reached south Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize.

The Maya civilisation excelled at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing (with its own logosyllabic script – seen as the most sophisticated and highly developed writing system in pre-Columbian Americas), calendar-making and mathematics. The Mayas left behind impressive architecture and art works, including the mask in question.

Written by Liz Newmark