The mummified toddler seized from antiquities traffickers is at least 700 years old and sits, spine curved forward, only about 30cm tall.
It was welcomed back to Peru on Tuesday as a sort of celebrity, a symbol of the nation’s effort to protect its cultural heritage.
“This small package,” Peruvian Culture Minister Luis Peirano told reporters, “is just a sample of the sacking, of the violation of our patrimony and all our inheritance.”
Police in neighboring Bolivia seized it two years ago as a Bolivian citizen tried to ship it to an address in Compiegne, France, in a cardboard box.
Bolivian Culture Minister Pablo Groux formally handed it over to Peru at a news conference on Tuesday.
It was wrapped in white linen because of its precarious condition, with underlying cloth made of cotton and wool from some sort of cameloid, which include llamas and alpacas.
Only two of the five pieces of cloth in which it was wrapped are original, and its left leg belonged to another child.
“To raise its commercial value, they added the other material and the leg,” said Blanca Alva, the Peruvian Culture Ministry official in charge of protecting the country’s patrimony.
The mummy’s sex is uncertain. Archaeologists believe it comes from a pre-Inca culture of coastal Peru and is of a child of about two years.
Peru, the seat of the Incas, was also home to dozens of pre-Inca cultures and its archaeological relics are constantly plundered, including ceramics, silver and gold craftwork, pre-Columbian textiles and colonial paintings.
Trafficking in mummies is much less common, though “lately, there has been an increase in this, the trafficking of human remains,” Alva said.
The former director of Peru’s National Institute of Culture, Cecilia Bakula, said that not until 2009 did Peru include skeletal remains and mummies in its “red list” of endangered goods whose export is restricted.
The mummy returned on Tuesday was the second that Peru has recovered. Another was returned by Germany last year, Alva said.
It had been removed from the country in the 1980s, she said.
Peruvian authorities said they would launch an investigation to determine who smuggled the mummified toddler out of Peru and whether they should be prosecuted.
Trafficking in Peruvian artifacts, including skeletal remains, occurs across the continent.
An archaeologist at Argentina’s National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought, Julio Avalos, said he and his colleagues are frequently called by police to assess whether relics encountered at airports and Buenos Aires’ seaport — or for sale on the Internet — are protected patrimony.
“Most of it is Peruvian because that’s what there is mostly,” Avalos said.