A Woman Thrifted This Ancient Maya Vase for $3.99—and Then Gave It Back to Mexico

Anna Lee Dozier started to wonder about the object’s origins when she realized it resembled artifacts in a Mexican museum

Maya vase
The vase dates to the Maya Classic period, which lasted from around 250 to 900 C.E. Esteban Moctezuma Barragán

A few years ago, Anna Lee Dozier noticed a small ceramic vase in a thrift store in Maryland. She bought the item, which was sitting on the clearance shelf near the checkout, for $3.99.

Now, she’s learned that the vase is actually a Maya artifact that’s between 1,200 and 1,800 years old.

She had no knowledge of the vase’s history or value when she bought it. “It looked old-ish, but I thought maybe 20, 30 years old and some kind of tourist reproduction thing, so I brought it home,” she tells Delia Goncalves of WUSA, a local CBS station.

Dozier, who is based in Washington, D.C., works as a human rights advocate with the nonprofit Christian Solidarity Worldwide. In that capacity, she has traveled to Mexico to work with Indigenous communities, and she saw the vase as a token to honor that connection.

“I could see that it had some kind of link to Mexico, in terms of what it looked like,” she tells NPR’s Emma Bowman. “Since it’s a country that I work [in] and it’s really important to me, I thought it would be just a nice little thing to take home and put on the shelf and to remind me of Mexico.”

Dozier began to wonder about the vase’s origins last January. During a work trip to Mexico City, she visited the National Museum of Anthropology, and the vases on display there were eerily similar to the piece she had bought back home. Intrigued, she contacted the museum to ask how she could get her vase inspected. The institution pointed her to the Mexican embassy, which examined Dozier’s photos of the artifact.

“I got an email saying, ‘Congratulations—it’s real, and we would like it back,’” she tells NPR.

The vase dates to the Classic Period of Maya history, which lasted from around 250 to 900 C.E. During those years, Maya communities made impressive advancements in fields like architecture, math and astronomy.

Dozier says she wasn’t tempted to sell the vase—or even determine its worth. Instead, she wanted to return a piece of history to its rightful home.

Ceremony photo
The repatriation ceremony took place at the Cultural Institute of Mexico in Washington, D.C. Esteban Moctezuma Barragán

“Giving it back feels so much better than it would if I put it on eBay and I got a bunch of money,” she tells NPR. “It’s really important to recognize that some of these things, especially with such historical and cultural value to an entire country and people—you can’t really put a number on that.”

Last week, the Cultural Institute of Mexico in D.C. held a ceremony marking the artifact’s return. At the event, Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, praised Dozier’s generosity.

“When you have strong roots, you know them and you honor them,” he said at the ceremony, per WUSA. “She recognized that a whole country, a whole culture cares about it, and we are deeply in gratitude with her.”

Soon, the vase will be sent to the Museum of Anthropology, where specialists will examine it. After that, it will join the collections of an unidentified Mexican museum.

Dozier, for her part, is relieved that the vase is safe and receiving proper care.

“I would like it to go back to its rightful place and to where it belongs. But I also want it out of my home because I have three little boys,” Dozier tells WUSA. “I was petrified that after 2,000 years, I would be the one to wreck it!”

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