Washington, DC, woman learns her $4 thrift store vase is 2,000-year-old Mayan artifact

A Washington, D.C., woman had no idea that the vase she purchased for $3.99 at a thrift store was a Mayan artifact over 1,000 years old. Five years later, the misplaced ceramic will be returned to its home country of Mexico.

Anna Lee Dozier said she noted the vase was “recognizably from Mexico” and “looked old” when she encountered it at the 2A Thrift Store in the Clinton, Maryland, area.

“In my work, I travel a lot to Mexico, and this item caught my eye because it looked different than the things on the shelf,” Dozier told As It Happens

“It looked old … but, like, I was thinking a 20- or 30-year-old tourist thing — something someone brought home, you know, from a trip somewhere.”


Over 1,000 year-old Mayan vase

Dozier said the Mayan artifact “looked old” when she bought it in Clinton, Maryland. (Handout via REUTERS)

Dozier, who works for human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide, visited Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology on a work trip in January and said something just clicked. 

“As I was walking through, it just occurred to me that some of the things that I was looking at looked very similar to what I had at home,” she said.

She asked a museum staff member what she should do if she thought she had a cultural artifact. The employee told her to contact the Mexican embassy when she returned to the U.S., Dozier told the radio station.

Sergio Aguirre Gamboa, a spokesperson for the Mexican embassy, told the outlet that a procedure had been established for just this type of situation in 2021 to “combat the sale of Mexican archaeological materials and facilitate dialogue with museums and private institutions for the restitution of our heritage.” 


Photos and information about the vase were sent to experts at Mexico City's Museum of Anthropology, pictured, which determined that the vase was made between 200 and 800 A.D. and was of Mayan origin.

Photos and information about the vase were sent to experts at Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology, pictured, which determined that the vase was made between 200 and 800 A.D. and was of Mayan origin. (Google Maps)

The embassy collected photos and information about the vase from Dozier, he said, and sent them to the Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History for authentication. Experts there confirmed that the vase was an artifact from the Mayan Classic Period, made between 200 A.D. and 800 A.D. in the area now known as Southeastern Mexico. 

“In April, they contacted me to say that, yes, it was in fact something real and very, very old,” Dozier said. “[The email] just said: Congratulations, it is real. And we would like it back — in a very nice way. Which is what I had intended.”

Dozier packed up the vase in a food-delivery box lined with newspapers and drove to the Mexican Cultural Institute in D.C. on Tuesday. 

“That little 30-minute drive, the whole way, I was just praying that [there would be] no fender benders, no accidents. Just get it there in one piece,” she said. 


2A Thrift Store in Clinton, Maryland

Anna Lee Dozier said she found the artifact at the 2A Thrift Store in Clinton, Maryland.  (Google Maps)

There, she returned the vessel in a ceremony with the Mexican ambassador. 

“When you have strong roots, you know them and you honor them,” Ambassador Moctezuma Barragan said, according to WUSA9. “She recognized that a whole country, a whole culture cares about it, and we are deeply in gratitude with her.”

Even if it were an option, Dozier said she would never have considered selling or auctioning off the priceless piece. 

“It has value beyond what you could put money on. And so for me, it just was never a question. If it was something special, it should go back to where it belongs,” she told As It Happens. “I feel very lucky that I got to find it and have it in my house for a few years, but now it’s going back where it should be.”

“I am thrilled to have played a part in it’s repatriation story. I would like it to go back to its rightful place and to where it belongs,” Dozier told WUSA 9, “But I also want it out of my home, because I have three little boys, and I have been petrified — well, it’s gone now, but I was petrified that after two thousand years I would be the one to wreck it!”


The Mexican government welcomed back 20 cultural artifacts from the United States this week, including centuries-old plates, bowls and sculpted figures of Aztec, Totonac and Teotihuacan origin, Reuters reported

Under Mexico’s 2021 initiative, Gamboa told the local outlet, approximately 13,500 objects of Mexican archaeological and historical importance have been repatriated from abroad in recent years.

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