Paris to sell looted pre-Columbian artifacts, Mexico protests
The Mexican government is attempting to halt the sale of more than 60 looted pre-Columbian archaeological objects at a French auction.
The Mexican government is attempting to halt the sale of more than 60 pre-Columbian archaeological objects at a French auction, which began today.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) of Mexico urged the sellers to "reflect on the ethical codes around the commercialization of looted cultural assets that contribute to cultural dispossession" in a statement.
The INAH urged the Parisian auction house Giquello & Associés to "consider the historical, symbolic, and cultural value of the assets, which is superior to any commercial interest," including ceramic sculptures from the Olmec people, one of Mesoamerica's earliest civilizations.
Mexican officials have also cited a 1934 law that prohibits the export of archeologically significant Mexican objects. However, the legislation does not apply outside of Mexico, leaving the fate of the artifacts in the hands of auctioneers.
On his part, the auctioneer Alexandre Giquello claimed that “being part of the international convention, Mexico is obliged to respect the terms of it, which are perfectly clear on the subordination of the national laws on the international chessboard,” according to The Art Newspaper. “So the national Mexican law has no echo in any other countries.” He further claimed, “Absolutely every item presented in [the auction] is perfectly respectful of the treaties, regulations, and terms, and with the French law.”
Bidding is now open on 82 artifacts ranging from pottery to sculpture, many of which are in excellent condition. A Mayan ceramic seated female figure, a carved Olmec bowel, and an Incan vase in the shape of a man's head are among the lots.
Mexico has become more active in attempting to restore looted artifacts from around the world. Officials in the country have launched a campaign known as #MiPatrimonioNoSeVende (#MyHeritageIsNotForSale), and the Mexican Ministry of Culture has become accustomed to directly calling out auction houses hosting such sales. Their efforts have yielded mixed results.
In March, the agency announced that it had identified over 100 objects that would be auctioned in the coming weeks at various auction houses, including Setdart in Barcelona, Carlo Bonte in Bruges, and Ader in Paris, as well as the Vienna-based Galerie Zacke.
Only the Viennese gallery returned the cultural property in its possession, a Veracruz-based Aztec earth god Tlaltecuhtli.