efe-epaBy Susana Madera Quito

Ecuador has recovered hundreds of historic artifacts thanks to a German man who inherited and voluntarily returned them.

In 2015 Josef Rettinger contacted the Ecuadorian embassy in Germany to find out where to send a collection of artifacts that his uncle, who lived in the Andean country between 1985-2005, gave to him.

"We cannot determine how, when or where," the goods came from because it was an "illegal transfer," Joaquín Moscoso, executive director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage (INPC), told Efe.

The artifacts, some of which date back to a millennium before the Common Era, were deposited at the INPC, where experts are cleaning and cataloging them.

Among the 530 pieces repatriated on 14 October were anthropomorphic figurines, zoomorphs (ancient art resembling an animal), bowls, nose rings and other items made from ceramics, bone, stone, glass, metal and shell.

The pieces are said to have originated from the indigenous Valdivia and Chorrera cultures, among others.

The haul arrived in Ecuador by plane in two highly protected boxes, a process that cost the Ministry of Culture and Heritage $5,000, one of the "cheapest" repatriation efforts to date, according to Moscoso.

To reclaim six objects from Germany in previous years, the Ministry paid over $100,000 in legal proceedings and other costs, while the repatriation of 4,000 pieces from Italy cost half a million.

For Minister of Culture Juan Fernando Velasco, the arrival of the artifacts to the country shows that recovering heritage has become a "state policy" of Ecuador.

"It's a mutilation, the loss of archaeological treasures, it's where the cultural DNA of our nation is encrypted," the minister told Efe, expressing concern about the trafficking of this kind of item.

The repatriation involved various entities, including Velasco's ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the INPC, the Prosecutor's Office and the Attorney General's Office, among others.

According to Velasco, there are still "many" heritage pieces located in other countries, a fact that means the efforts on this front must go on.

"Ecuador has embarked on an immense and relentless fight against the illegal trafficking of cultural and heritage assets" - the third most lucrative activity drug and weapons smuggling, according to Moscoso.

Moscoso said Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Ecuador were the most affected by the loss of historic artifacts in the region.

Ecuador has embarked on the process of signing international agreements - 18 of them to date - in a bid to prevent the illegal trafficking of such pieces.

The authorities do not intend to keep these items hidden away - they will go on display so that the public can appreciate their wealth and history.

Moscoso concluded that recovering these pieces allowed the Ecuadorian people to recover their past so that it can have a present, because cultural heritage is bound up in identity. EFE-EPA