Ancient Mayan vase purchased by US woman for $4 returned to Mexico

Estimated read time 3 min read

Mexico has regained a lost ancient Maya vase because of a US woman who bought the artefact for less than $5 at a thrift store.

Anne Lee Dozier recently received an expression of gratitude from the Mexican embassy in her home town of Washington DC for her role in reuniting the 1,200-to 1,800-year-old vase with its motherland.

“A valuable witness of our Maya history returns home … thanks to the generosity of Anne Lee Dozier,” Mexico’s ambassador to the US, Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, wrote on X. “This historic jewel will be reintegrated within the collection of [Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology and History] to preserve our rich cultural heritage.”

As she recounted to National Public Radio in an article published on Friday that summarized the unusual saga, Dozier bought the vase in question in about 2019 at the 2A Thrift Store in Clinton, Maryland, where it was on a clearance shelf by the checkout register.

Dozier perceived the vase to be old – but no more than three decades old, as she put it to NPR. Dozier, a human rights advocate with Christian Solidarity Worldwide, took an interest in the pottery because she had worked with Indigenous communities in Mexico, and to Dozier it seemed the piece had some tie to the country.

“I thought it would be just a nice little thing to take home and put on the shelf and to remind me of Mexico,” Dozier – who paid $4 for the vase – said to NPR.

Dozier then traveled to Mexico City in January on a work trip, visited the national anthropology museum and saw other Maya vases displayed there that bore a striking resemblance to the one she had at home, according to NPR. She wasn’t entirely convinced she had an authentic Maya vase at home, but she reported her thrift store find to a museum official, who in turn recommended that she call the Mexican embassy.

Ultimately, Dozier sent in pictures of the vase along with a description of its dimensions. The national anthropology museum replied that she indeed had an authentic relic – one that Mexico wanted back.

“I got an email saying, ‘Congratulations – it’s real and we would like it back,’” Dozier said.

Anne Lee Dozier, middle, stands next to Mexico’s ambassador to the US Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, right, at a ceremony during which Dozier returned an ancient Maya vase to Mexico.View image in fullscreen

Barragan said on X that the vase dated back to between AD200 and 800. As NPR noted, historians generally considered that to be the height of the Maya civilization, which declined after drought, infighting and eventually European conquest, among other factors.

Details about exactly how the vase ended up at a thrift store in Maryland were not immediately clear. Nonetheless, Mexico’s cultural institute in Washington DC marked its recovery of the vase in a ceremony on Monday.

Dozier, in an interview with the local CBS affiliate WUSA after the ceremony, joked that she was thrilled to eliminate the possibility that one of her three young sons would accidentally wreck the vase at their family home.

Yet she also made it a point to tell the station that she was glad the vase was destined “to go back to its rightful place and to where it belongs”.

“I am thrilled to have played a part in its repatriation story,” Dozier said. “Giving it back feels so much better than it would if I put it [up for sale online] and I got a bunch of money.”

She said: “It’s really important to recognize that some of these things, especially with such historical and cultural value to an entire country and people – you can’t really put a number on that.”


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