for National Geographic News
A 1,500-year-old Maya stone box that had been looted from a Guatemalan cave has been returned by an unnamed collector.
The artifact was delivered anonymously to officials at Guatemala's Ministry of Culture last week.
Experts had described the artifact as one of the most impressive finds from the Early Classic Period (A.D. 250-600) of ancient Maya civilization.
The vessel's theft, first noticed two months ago, led Guatemalan authorities to launch a national investigation.
(Read "Priceless Maya Stone Vessel Looted in Guatemala" [May 5, 2005].)
Archaeologist Brent Woodfill, based in Guatemala City, says he was happy and surprised when he learned the priceless vessel had been recovered.
The Vanderbilt University graduate student was one of several researchers to study the exquisitely carved box after its discovery last year.
Woodfill believes pressure from the inquiry and publicity over the heist may have led the buyer to return the object.
"It's kind of a risky thing to make a lot noise about an artifact disappearing," he said.
"Because it's as probable, if not more [so], that the object will just go into hiding and won't surface for years."
"For it to come back so quickly is astounding."
The archaeologist initially feared the object might vanish into a private collection in Europe or the United States.
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