Photo by Stephen L. Alvarez

On May 5, 2006, National Geographic News reported the looting of an ancient Maya carved stone box from a cave near Cancuen in Guatemala. The artifact has now been recovered.

According to the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports, the looting of ten Precolumbian objects from the Hun Nal Ye cave located on the grounds of the finca San Vicente Chicatal, San Pedro Carchá, Alta Verapaz, was reported on April 10, 2006, by the owner of the finca.

The looted pieces were reported to Interpol, assigned official Object IDs, and posted on the website of the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

On May 15, the Ministry received a phone call from an individual who identified himself as a private art collector who had acquired, supposedly in good faith, the stone box which was reported as stolen on the Ministry's website.

On May 31 a courier delivered the box and its lid to the Ministry with an anonymous note. Legal proceedings are now being pursued against an individual in the Department of Cobán.

The priceless Maya artifact in question is decorated with glyphs and a scene featuring the moon goddess and a rabbit. According to a report by Brent Woodfill and Mirza Monterroso (Investigaciones en la Cueva Hun Nal Ye), it was discovered in March, 2005, by Leonidas Javier, who owns the land on which the Hun Nal Ye cave is located. He reported it to his friend, Lic. Patricia del Águila of the National Museum, who suggested that he send photos to Lic. Salvador López, head of the department of Prehispanic Monuments of the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History.

López contacted archaeologist Brent Woodfill, and a preliminary reconnaissance was carried out in April by Javier, López, and Woodfill. Woodfill and Monterroso then pursued further investigations under the supervision of López.

The Hun Nal Ye cave is located eight meters above a shallow pool which is filled by an underground river and empties in a waterfall. During the dry months it is possible to walk across the cascade on three large stones that protrude above the water, but normally it is necessary to swim in order to reach the other side.

Report on the recovery in the Guatemalan newspaper El Periódico: front page, photo of the box, graphic, text of article.