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San Marino Family Returns Artifacts to Mexico

Bill Lewis, who grew up in San Marino and graduated from San Marino High School in 1975, represented his family at the Mexican Consulate last week in a ceremony that acknowledged the return of more than 75 cultural artifacts that had been in his family for about 100 years.

“Many of those years, the pieces were in the care of my mother, Carol Pratt Lewis,” Lewis said. “Mom was a San Marino resident from 1962 through 2010.”

Lewis said a distant relative enjoyed frequent trips through Mexico and Central America in the 1920s and ‘30s and occasionally collected artifacts. These were passed through multiple generations and ended up in display cases at the family’s San Marino home. When Lewis’ mother passed away in 2014, the Lewis family began the process of returning the pieces to their country of origin.

This vase was authenticated in 1932 by a Harvard anthropologist as possibly emanating from the northern Yucatan peninsula around 1000 A.D.

“We just wanted to give it back,” Lewis said. “Culturally, it’s far more significant to the people of Mexico. For us to keep it in a display case didn’t make any sense.”

Last week’s ceremony was the culmination of years of effort to find a proper home for the pieces. The family had contacted several museums, archeologists and universities before concentrating attention on the consulates. At one point, Lewis even communicated with the Smithsonian.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) of Mexico analyzed the pieces to determine their era and culture and whether they were part of Mexico’s cultural heritage. The pieces include objects belonging to the Mayan, Zapotec and Teotihuacan cultures, as well as the shaft tombs of western Mexico, and cultures from the Central Highlands, the West and the Gulf of Mexico.

The collection includes two impressions of fish fossils in rock slabs. Their morphology and style indicate that they are two Clupeiformes from Mexico — the order of ray-finned fish that includes the herring family.

Highlights of the 79 archaeological pieces include a Mayan-style tripod vessel made in southeastern Mexico during the Classic period, 400-900 A.D. It is made of modeled, polished clay with a molded application. It has bas-relief decoration featuring a central scene of a richly dressed seated figure.

There are a couple of pieces from the shaft tomb tradition that developed between 100 B.C. and 600 A.D. in western Mexico: a clay effigy vessel in the shape of a dog and a clay figure of a male wearing a headdress.

On display was a portion of the more than 75 cultural artifacts that were returned to the Mexican government by San Marino’s Lewis family.

The pieces will be repatriated to Mexico with the assistance of the consulate in Los Angeles. The Foreign Ministry’s Office of Legal Affairs will then deliver the objects to officials from the Culture Ministry and the INAH for their study, analysis and conservation.

At the event, Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said, “As you know, it is a priority for Mexico to recover its historical and artistic heritage, and this is a great gesture from American citizens committed to the Mexican civilization and who have an interest in these pieces being returned to our country, so we are very grateful to you.”

“We just wanted to give it all back,” Lewis concluded. “We didn’t create the pieces. They ended up with us by ancestry and accident. It’s important that these pieces are returned to the people and cultures that created them.”

The four Lewis children include Bill, Steve (SMHS Class of 1971), Jonathan (SMHS Class of 1978) and Carol, who received her diploma from SMHS in 1984.

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