Mexico tries to halt auctions of Pre-Columbian artefacts in Paris

The Mexican government has attempted to halt two auctions of Pre-Columbian artefacts in Paris. In a letter sent to the French Ministry, the Mexican Embassy expressed its “deep concern” about the legality of the sales.

The commercialization of archaeological pieces encourages transnational crime and creates the favourable conditions for the recrudescence of the looting of cultural property through illegal excavations,” explained the Mexican Embassy.

But the French auction house Artcurial already sold a group of more than 40 Islamic and Pre-Columbian objects on 2 November 2021, alongside 192 other antiquities. Meanwhile, the sale of 78 Pre-Columbian figurines from a private collection at Christie’s Paris is scheduled for 10 November 2021. Christie’s have estimated the figurines could sell for a staggering €27-41 million (£23-35 million). Amongst the total 139 objects from the private collection, a hacha from a Mayan ball game has been valued at around €200,000 (£170,000).

The Mexican authorities have also informed UNESCO, with a representative stating that “we are examining the information they have provided us about the illegality of the sale of about 78 objects offered for sale by Christie’s.”

Alejandra Frausto Guerrero, the Mexican Secretary of Culture, strongly condemned the sale by referencing the declaration recently signed by both the Mexican and French governments. The Declaration of Intent against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property was put forth at the first G20 Culture Ministers’ Meeting in Rome in July 2021.

In the letter, the Mexican Embassy further remarked that the very action of auctioning “strips these invaluable objects of their cultural, historical and symbolic essence, turning them into commodities or curiosities by separating them from the anthropological environment from which they come.” As yet, neither auction house has commented on the request to return the objects.

For years, Mexico has attempted to reclaim its cultural heritage from private collections around the world. Many of these objects were found to have been illegally excavated and removed from the country. The most recent success came in September 2021, when an auction of 17 Mexican artifacts at Casa Bertolami Fine Arts in Rome was suspended and the pieces reclaimed by the Mexican government.

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