US Returns 900 Artifacts Found In Shipping Container To Mali

Photo: Getty Images

The US is returning more than 900 artifacts to Mali, 12 years after they were confiscated by the US Department of Homeland Security.

The artifacts were first discovered in 2009 after an illegal shipment was intercepted at the Port of Houston, The New York Times reported. Among the artifacts are ceremonial and mortuary objects –– some that date as far back as the Neolithic period.

Officials who made the discovery described the massive find as looking for a needle in a haystack, since the Port of Houston is one the nation's busiest.

So what took so long for the artifacts to be returned?

Well, US Customs and Border was first made the discovery in March 2009 after a shipment originating from Mali said the contents of a shipping container included replicas of cultural items.

After agents inspected it, they discovered the items were indeed authentic. That same year, Rice University anthropologist Susan McIntosh researched the items and released a report, confirming their authenticity.

In 2011, the US initiated the process of returning the items to Mali, but was paused after the West African nation began to experience civil and economic unrest, Homeland Security said. The effort was re-taken up last June when the State Department provided Mali a grant to finance the return process.

"We put a great deal of care into culture," Mohamed Traore, adviser with Mali's Permanent Mission to the UN, told The Times. "We considered these objects as part of our history that was not present anymore."

Negotiations to return the artifacts resumed this year after the US told the Malian government about the not-yet returned objects.

On Monday (November 22), the objects were officially handed back to Mali via diplomats and would be assessed by the nation's Ministry of Culture. The artifacts are set to be displayed in their final destination, which includes the National Museum of Mali, located in the capital city, Bamako.

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