Mexico loses bid to stop auction of pre-Hispanic artifacts

November 10, 2021 GMT

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Christie’s auction of pre-Hispanic artifacts went ahead Wednesday despite the Mexican government’s appeals to stop it, the latest round in Mexico’s losing battle to stop such sales.

Christie’s Paris branch auctioned off 72 sculptures and figurines from the Maya and Olmec cultures despite Mexico’s claim that the pieces were national treasures and part of its national heritage. Fifteen other items failed to sell.

One stone Maya carving, traditionally known as an “Axe” because of its shape, went for almost $800,000 (692,000 euros). The Christie’s catalogue described the piece as a “sculpturally-carved with a bearded dignitary with his head dramatically thrown back and struggling with a sinuous, mythical rattle snake.”

The Mexican government said a dozen of the artifacts put up for sale were fake, but most of those sold anyway.

Mexican officials had demanded Christie’s stop the sale, which included other artifacts from the Taino and other cultures, and launched a social media campaign under the slogan “#my heritage is not for sale.”


Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said that the majority of items in the auction reached the market by illegal acts and that “this type of actions represent an attack against culture, not only that of the peoples to who it belong, but against the understanding of the history of humanity and its cultures.”

Leonardo López Luján, who has overseen the excavations in Mexico City’s Templo Mayor, wrote on his Twitter account that “this is a never-ending story.”

“It’s proven that the old, recurring method of sending letters and demands does not have any effect, other than pretending that something is being done,” López Lujan wrote. “Complex problems are solved with complex strategies.”

Mexico has failed to stop several auctions, including a sale of pre-Hispanic sculptures and other artifacts by Christie’s Paris earlier this year.

The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History protested the Christie’s Paris sale in February. The collection included a 1,500-year-old stone mask from the ancient city of Teotihuacan and an ancient statue of the fertility goddess Cihuateotl, apparently from the Totonac culture. The auction brought in more than $3 million.

Paris auction houses often sell Indigenous artifacts that are already on the art market, despite protests from activists who say they should be returned to their native lands. Christie’s said the Mayan sculpture, for example, had been bought by a European collector from on in the United State around 1970.

That appears to pre-date a 1972 Mexican law that forbids export or sale of archeological or significant cultural artifacts.