Mexican authorities on Tuesday unveiled a stunning collection of 8,000 pre-Hispanic antiquities, some dating back 3,000 years, donated to the state by a private collector.
"It literally took my breath away as I opened case after case to discover these objects in tortoiseshell, jade, serpentine and gold," Xochicalco archeology director Marco Antonio Santos told a press conference.
Experts say it is the most spectacular private collection ever unveiled in Mexico given the number of artifacts, their variety and their general condition.
The collection was put together in the 1940s by an American dentist Miguel Leoff and then maintained by his wife Nadine Vinot, a French winemaker, who decided to donate the collection to Mexico at the end of last year.
The collection was transported to the Xochicalco museum last week amid tight police security.
It will now be classified and studied before being gathered in a exhibition to be shown in Mexico and abroad from 2010.
Among the most important pieces are a clay flute in the form of a bird, two Inca pottery pieces from Peru, a figure from Ecuador and a pottery figurine from Guatemala.
"It's not only one of the most important private collections ever, but it also provides us with vital information," said Eduardo Lopez, director of the National Institute of Anthropology and History Mexico (INAH).
In Mexico, archeological pieces are considered to be state property, but a 1972 law allowed them to be held by private individuals providing they were officially declared.
"Some of the items were purchased in Mexico, others were for sale at galleries in the United States and Europe," said Santos, adding the collection had been properly registered with the Mexican authorities.
He hailed the donation saying it marked "the recovery of a collection that otherwise would have been lost due to the looting that has occurred in our archeological sites."
But he added some of the pieces had been damaged, or ill-considered attempts had been made to restore them using dental materials.