On Monday, the United States returned to Mexico a 16th-century manuscript handwritten by Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés after it was looted from the country’s national archive to be illegally auctioned.
The manuscript, which the digital news site La Lista reported was a letter from Cortés to the manager of his mines, Pedro de Castilleja, had been stored together with other colonial records at the national archive, but sometime between 2010 and 2017, the artifact was stolen from the archive, cut from its binding and smuggled into the United States.
It was consigned to a New York-based auction house prior to being intercepted and seized by the New York State Attorney’s office.
“This case demonstrates the lengths to which traffickers and looters will go to steal these priceless pieces of cultural and historical heritage,” said New York State Attorney General D.A. Bragg.
The historic artifact was returned by the New York State Attorney to the Consul General of Mexico in New York, Jorge Islas López, during a repatriation ceremony.
“The return of this letter signed by Hernán Cortés contributes to a series of important historical document repatriations that the Consulate General of Mexico in New York has been able to conduct thanks to the joint efforts of these authorities”, said the Mexican Consul, who also said the document dated to circa 1539.
The letter is the 17th object stolen from Mexico’s national archive that the New York State’s Attorney Office has recovered. Earlier this year, it also returned a colonial period Reglamento. In 2021, it gave back 15 documents connected to Cortés and his associates that had also been stolen from the archives and smuggled into New York County. Just last week, a document signed by Cortés from 1527 was recovered by FBI Boston. This artifact is also thought to have been stolen from Mexico’s national archives some time prior to 1993.