Pre-Columbian artifacts auctioned in Brazil recovered by police

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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil's federal police seized three pre-Columbian archaeological pieces on Friday that had been auctioned at a Rio de Janeiro art galley, they said, adding they plan to return them to Ecuador and Colombia.

The ceramic pieces, believed to have been looted from archaeological sites or museum collections in those countries, were sold last year and were recovered after an investigation into the buyers and sellers, a police statement said.

Preliminary identification of the pieces as Pre-Columbian was done by Brazil's historic and artistic heritage institute IPHAN, although how they arrived in Brazil is still unknown.

Two of the pieces are from the Jama Coaque culture that flourished for about 2,000 years until the Spanish conquest in what is today the coastal province of Manabí in northeastern Ecuador, a statement from the Ecuadorean embassy said.

The Jama Coaque culture was known for its elaborate ceramic figurines and vessels depicting human beings and animals.

The international trade in looted archaeological pieces is vast and growing, according to experts.

Global enforcement has stepped up, too, partly in response to the industrial-scale looting of sites in Iraq after the fall of fall of Saddam Hussein's government in 2003.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Additional reporting and writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Gregorio)