Two Mesoamerican busts have been returned to Mexico by Germany in a repatriation ceremony on Tuesday. The two wooden artefacts from Veracruz had been missing since the 1980s and after a decade of legal procedures will now be repatriated.

The two Pre-Classical Mesoamerican wooden busts date to c. 1,200BC and are of the Olmec civilization. They had been seized from the El Manati archaeological site and turned up in the hands of an art dealer from Costa Rica, Leonardo Patterson, who them along with more than 1,000 items of the Aztec, Maya and Olmec civilisations to northern Spain. They remained there in storage until 2008 when hundreds of items were seized by the authorities and were returned to Peru. Patterson took the remaining items of his collection to Munich, Germany where the two busts were confiscated by German authorities among other artefacts and were taken to the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection, where they remained until now.

The items are considered very important by Mexican archaeologists and authorities since only 13 other artefacts with these features of the Olmec culture are preserved, according to Maria Villarreal of Mexico’s National Institute of History and Anthropology. The 15 items were probably buried by the Olmec people at El Manati, wrapped in fabric. When the two busts were recovered they were found among various items, such as axes, stone knives and wooden containers.

The artefacts will be returned to Mexico presently and after the necessary restoration and stabilisation procedures will be exhibited at the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology.