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Spanish police provided images of the looted treasures
Spanish police provided images of the looted treasures

Anthropomorphic containers, ancient ceramic bowls, mysterious instruments, jewelry and delicate painting tools belonging to the native Colombian cultures that collapsed in the 16th century, before the onslaught of Spanish invaders.

These were some of almost 700 items Spanish police confiscated from traffickers, which authorities in Madrid formally handed over to Colombia's ambassador this week, a decade after they were found. The items were given a pricetag of $7 million, but said to be of "incalculable worth,"El Espectador and agencies reported.

Ambassador Fernando Carrillo Flórez told the Spanish agency EFE that "the arrival of almost 700 pieces to Colombia is one of the most important cultural events of recent times." They would, he said, have a "place of honor" in one of the country's museums, perhaps the National Museum or the Archaeology Museum in Bogotá.

Some of the items were found in 2003 in a Madrid flat belonging to one of 29 suspected traffickers detained at the time. An adventure fit for Tintin — though the heroes in this case were the police, who found the treasures during the Operación Florencia targetting drug trafficking and money laundering.

In all, authorities found more than 880 items from various Latin American countries. An official of the Spanish Culture Ministry, Jesús Prieto, called the find "a small Colombian museum of archaeology," for the breadth of periods and cultures concerned. It included items from the Quimbaya, Sinú and Nariño cultures.

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