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The Great Heist of Mexican Art: How 140 Priceless Artifacts Were Stolen from the Antropology Museum.

Updated: Aug 2, 2023



Breaching the Museum

It was a cold winter night on Christmas Eve, 1985, and the National Museum of Anthropology was eerily quiet. Unbeknownst to the museum's staff, a group of daring criminals was about to breach the museum's walls and steal 140 priceless artifacts from the Maya, Oaxaca, and Mexica rooms. The thieves had planned their heist meticulously, studying the staff's routines and the pieces they would take. They easily jumped over the metal fence located at Reforma Avenue, crossed the garden, and used a stair to descend to the basement. Then, they crawled inside the AC ducts to reach the exhibition rooms.For the next three hours, the thieves worked their way through the museum, stealing priceless works of art. Meanwhile, the guards had gathered in one place to celebrate Christmas, leaving the museum unprotected. It wasn't until 8am when the next shift of guards arrived that anyone noticed the burglary.



Press conference communicating the robbery at the museum of anthropology
Press conference communicating the robbery at the museum of anthropology

The Aftermath of the Heist

The news sent shockwaves throughout the country. Former President Miguel de la Madrid immediately ordered an investigation, and an impressive array of agencies joined forces to

PRESS RELEASE of the robbery at the museum of anthropology
PRESS RELEASE of the robbery at the museum of anthropology

track down the criminals and the stolen artifacts. The theft was reported to INTERPOL, and detailed descriptions of the stolen items were sent to 158 countries. For four long years, police searched for the criminals and the stolen artifacts, but to no avail. Rumors abounded that the thieves were a professional gang of art robbers responsible for other museum robberies around the world. It seemed as if the priceless works of art had been whisked away to a far-off place, never to be seen again. But then, in 1989, the police got their break.

Pieces recovered from the robbery at the National Museum of Anthropology
Pieces recovered from the robbery at the National Museum of Anthropology

The Arrest and Return of the Stolen Artifacts

After a year of keeping the stolen items hidden in a closet in a residential neighborhood in Estado de Mexico, the two young middle-class men responsible for the robbery - Carlos Perches, 25, and Ramón Sardina, 26 - were arrested.

Photograph of the thieves from the National Museum of Anthropology and History and one of the recovered pieces
Photograph of the thieves from the National Museum of Anthropology and History and one of the recovered pieces

On June 12th, the covers of national newspapers announced the retrieval of the stolen objects and the details of the case. Two days later, in a deeply nationalistic act, the president made an official ceremony to give the stolen items back to the museum. As a result of this incident, new general security norms were implemented in every NIAH venue, and judicial reforms were applied to the Penal Code.


The Repercussions of the Heist

The National Museum of Anthropology also installed an antitheft electronic alarm system, a fire detection system, a closed circuit television system, and more security personnel. The heist of the National Museum of Anthropology was a wake-up call for the nation. It opened people's eyes to the great value of our archeological heritage and changed our perception of our cultural identity forever. The repercussions of the heist of the National Museum of Anthropology weren't just limited to Mexico. It made headlines around the world and drew attention to the vulnerability of many museums and galleries. It also highlighted the need for more stringent security protocols and better protection of our cultural heritage.


Exhibition hall of the National Museum of Anthropology
Exhibition hall of the National Museum of Anthropology

A Cautionary Tale

The story of the theft of the National Museum of Anthropology serves as a cautionary tale. It reminds us of the importance of taking care of our cultural heritage, and of the need to remain vigilant in protecting it. In the wake of this incident, museums, galleries, and other public institutions have taken steps to strengthen their security protocols, and to ensure that such a robbery never happens again.


Mexican Art

If you have time and love Mexican Art, check out the thought-provoking Mexican painting "Chernobyl" on our website. This contemporary artwork delves into the profound impact of the Chernobyl catastrophe, intertwining Aztec symbolism to shed light on the dangers of nuclear energy. Through haunting imagery of radioactive human remains and an exploration of territorial isolation, this painting urges us to contemplate the consequences and advocate for cleaner and sustainable forms of energy. Immerse yourself in this powerful artistic reflection at Link: Mexican Painting - Chernobyl.



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