Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Straight Outta Brooklyn Volume 55 Number 3, May/June 2002
by Roger Atwood


© Frank Oudeman [LARGER IMAGE]

A carved stone jaguar head seized by police from a Brooklyn garage in November 1999 is finally going home. Believed to be hacked by looters from a site in Guatemala's Pacific coastal highlands, the piece was kept in Guatemala's New York consulate while a suitable museum space was created in the National Archaeology Museum in Guatemala City.

The 500-pound sculpture's long journey from the Maya periphery to a scruffy Brooklyn neighborhood and back again is one of the stranger stories from the rapidly growing file of police seizures of cultural property. The New York Times wrote that police, "more accustomed to dealing with the brutal side of urban life, were both intrigued and confused by the discovery." The sculpture shows a man caught in the jaws of a jaguar, his arms outstretched, seeming to scream in agony. "We don't know exactly where it's from, and in fact we had never heard of this piece until it appeared in Brooklyn," says Fernando Paniagua, director of Guatemala's Registry of Cultural Assets. Although police assume the piece was destined for black-market sale, what it was doing in a garage remains a mystery. New York police detective Ruben Santiago of the Major Case squad told ARCHAEOLOGY that investigations were continuing and no arrests had been made. He declined to give more details. One New York antiquities dealer said the case bore the hallmarks of a deal gone wrong; the garage might have been a drop-off point for the piece on its way to nearby Kennedy airport.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America