TechAncient Olmec portal returns to Mexico after decades abroad

Ancient Olmec portal returns to Mexico after decades abroad

Mexican portal to the afterlife
Mexican portal to the afterlife
Images source: © ©INAH

10:53 AM EDT, June 4, 2024

The enormous "Portal el Inframundo" (Eng. Portal to the Underworld), an ancient Olmec monument, has returned to Mexico after many ordeals. For nearly 3,000 years, it adorned the walls of the Chalcatzingo hill. The colossus, standing at a height of 6 feet, a width of 5 feet, and weighing one ton, was most likely the entrance to a cave and played a significant cultural role.

"Portal el Inframundo" was brought back to Mexico after a decades-long investigation into its whereabouts, reports IFL Science. It is still unknown how it disappeared from Mexico and who was behind it. Nearly half a century after its disappearance, the "Portal to the Underworld" was spotted at an auction in the United States. This allowed the procedure for its recovery and restoration to be initiated before it was sent home. The ancient artifact had been damaged, and art dealers broke it into 25 pieces to make it easier to smuggle out of Mexico.

"Portal to the Underworld" back in Mexico

The mysterious object most likely originated between 800 and 400 B.C. It was built in Chalcatzingo, a pre-Columbian settlement in the Amatzinac Valley in the eastern part of Morelos. Once an important site on the Olmec map, Chalcatzingo is known for its enormous stone heads, which are believed to represent their rulers. However, the "Portal el Inframundo" was not decorated with human faces. It depicts the open jaws of a mythical cat with eyes shaped like the Olmec cross and corners of the mouth adorned with bromeliad flowers. These motifs are known from other monuments discovered in Chalcatzingo.

The portal is believed to have disappeared in the mid-20th century and was only rediscovered in 1968 at a New York museum. Archaeologist David Grove took notice of it and described the artifact, but had difficulty determining its origin. Many years later, Mario Córdova Tello from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) managed to gather sufficient evidence indicating that "Portal to the Underworld" had been illegally removed from Mexico. The portal returned to its home on May 19, 2023, but its restoration took over a year.

"Portal el Inframundo" is currently one of the exhibits at the Museo Regional de los Pueblos de Morelos in Mexico. After the exhibition ends, the artifact will be returned to its original location and will once again adorn the walls of the Chalcatzingo hill, where for nearly 3,000 years it served as a symbolic entrance to the "underworld".

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