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She thrifted this vase for $4. It turned out to be an ancient Mayan artifact

Anna Lee Dozier purchased this vase at a thrift store about 10 minutes from her Washington, D.C., home. It turned out to be an authentic Mayan artifact that dates to between 200 AD to 800 AD.
Anna Lee Dozier
Anna Lee Dozier purchased this vase at a thrift store about 10 minutes from her Washington, D.C., home. It turned out to be an authentic Mayan artifact that dates to between 200 AD to 800 AD.

For a long time, Anna Lee Dozier thought she had just stumbled upon a good deal.

The Washington, D.C., resident paid about $4 for what she assumed was a reproduction of a Mayan vase. It turned out to be the real deal: an artifact that’s at least 1,200 years old from the ancient civilization. And now, it's headed back to its homeland.

Dozier bought the vase about five years ago at the 2A Thrift Store in Clinton, Md. She was about to leave the shop when she spotted it on a clearance shelf by the checkout.

"It did look old to me, but not old-old, like 20 to 30 years old, maybe," she said.

Dozier, a human rights advocate with Christian Solidarity Worldwide who has worked with Indigenous communities in Mexico, said that the pottery was a special find even before she knew just how priceless it was.

"I could see that it had some kind of link to Mexico, in terms of what it looked like, and since it's a country that I work on and it's really important to me, I thought it would be just a nice little thing to take home and put on the shelf and to remind me of Mexico," she said.

Then, this past January, while on a work trip to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, she saw on display Mayan vases that were strikingly similar.

"Some of the things I was looking at looked awfully like what I had at home on my shelf," she said. "I still was dubious that it was real, but just thought it looked enough like that that I asked to speak to someone in the [museum] offices and just ask, if I had something of interest, what would be the process to authenticate that."

She was told to contact the Mexican embassy, she said, which she did. After sending in photos and dimensions of the vase, she said she was told by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History that she had an authentic piece of history on her hands: "I got an email saying, 'Congratulations — it's real and we would like it back.'"

The vessel dates back to between 200 AD and 800 AD, according to the Mexican embassy in D.C., during the Classic period – what historians widely regard as the height of the indigenous Mayan civilization.

On Monday, the Cultural Institute of Mexico in D.C. held a ceremony to mark the repatriation, with Mexico’s Ambassador to the U.S. Esteban Moctezuma Barragá in attendance. 

"I am thrilled to have played a part in its repatriation story," Dozier told local CBS station WUSA. "I would like it to go back to its rightful place and to where it belongs," she added, "but I also want it out of my home because I have three little boys and … I was petrified that after two-thousand years I would be the one to wreck it!"

Now, it’s out of her house, and will be shipped to Mexico’s Museum of Anthropology and History before it’s sent to another museum in the country, the outlet reported.

Dozier said she’s been asked why she didn't try to sell it or find out its monetary value.

"Giving it back feels so much better than it would if I put it on eBay and I got a bunch of money,” she said. “It’s really important to recognize that some of these things, especially with such historical and cultural value to an entire country and people — you can't really put a number on that."

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Emma Bowman
[Copyright 2024 NPR]