MEDFORD — For 2013, Medford native David Dellenback has a New Year’s resolution — to right what he believes is a wrong that began a century ago in Colombia.
Dellenback, 60, a longtime resident of Colombia who lives in San Agustin with his wife, Martha, is working with Colombian residents to return 35 ancient stone statues from a German museum back to San Agustin, where they were taken in 1913.
“The stars are aligned to bring them back," he said in a telephone interview. “The German government understands they are stolen. No museum would want them. The time has come for them to be returned.
“The Germans are waiting for the Colombian government to wake up and come for these statues."
The stone statues, now at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, were taken by ethnologist Konrad Preuss, who led excavations in the San Agustin area in 1913. However, he was unable to move the statues to Germany until after World War I ended in 1918. He died in 1938.
Dellenback organized a campaign in December in which more than 1,800 residents of the San Agustin area signed a petition asking the Colombian government to formally request the return of the artifacts from Germany. The town of about 30,000 high in the Andes is about 250 miles southwest of Bogota.
In a Dec. 27 article on Dellenback’s effort, the Los Angeles Times reported that the cultural attache at the German Embassy in Bogota did not return a call asking for comment. Legal experts differ on whether there were laws at the time that prohibited such artifact export from Colombia, the paper reported.
The Oregon expatriate is the son of the late John Dellenback, a longtime Medford resident who served as a member of Congress from 1966 to 1974 and was later appointed head of the Peace Corps by President Gerald Ford.
A coffee farmer who has lived in Colombia for more than 35 years, David Dellenback lived in Medford for 15 years before moving with his family to Washington, D.C., while his father was serving in Congress. When he isn’t tending his coffee trees, David Dellenback is an archaeological investigator in the region known for its pre-Columbian archaeological sites.
When he arrived in Colombia, Dellenback, whose wife is from Bogota, said he became interested in the culture and its history, including archaeology. He has written two books on ancient stone statues from the region, many of which are more than 1,000 years old.
He is particularly concerned about the looting of Colombian cultural sites, including the removal of the 35 stone statues.
“Archaeologists don’t find these artifacts — grave robbers and tomb raiders find them," he said. “They are discovered by people who do not bear them any goodwill at all."
He described Preuss as an ethnologist not well versed in the study of archaeology who violated ethics in taking the artifacts.
“He was not an archaeologist — he wanted plunder," Dellenback said. “I consider him and others like him the spiritual followers of the conquistadors. He wanted to get his hands on artifacts."