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US gives pre-Columbian artifacts back to Mexico

MCALLEN, Texas--U.S. authorities have returned a huge cache of more than 4,000 pre-Columbian artifacts, including statues, pots, hatchets and an Aztec whistle, to Mexico in what officials said was the largest repatriation of stolen or looted art of its kind.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, which investigates art and other artifacts plundered abroad and smuggled into the United States, said the antiquities were retrieved following investigations in several U.S. states and Mexico.

Among the most prized artifacts handed over at a ceremony in the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas, were an Aztec-era whistle, copper hatchets, statues and a matate — a stone hand tool used to grind grain.

The trove included 26 pieces of pre-Columbian pottery that dated back more than 1,500 years, which were recovered following an investigation in Montana, ICE said in a news release.

The trove was believed to be the largest single haul of artifacts returned by ICE to any country to date, according to the agency. Prior to Thursday's mass repatriation, the agency's Homeland Security Investigations division had returned more than 2,600 items to 24 countries.

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