Mexican demand to stop selling their Aztec artefacts

NSEXICO CITY — A German millionaire stands outside her house with a piece of history; an ancient tool crafted from volcanic rock and dated to 1,000 BC. Behind her, a Aztecs standing statue with some other archaeological artifacts.

The Mexican government argues that these centuries-old cultural heritage belong to the nation’s museums.

In Europe, they are considered cute collectibles. In a single sale in 2019, German collector Manichak Aurance – who was delighted to show off his spoils on film – auctioned 94 artifacts.

Sales continue. Earlier this month, the prestigious Christie’s auction house in France put up 72 pre-Colombian works that the Mexican government had specifically asked them not to do, also known as an auction.”illegal. “Anyway, most of the work is for sale, including a Mayan stone carving called “Hacha Maya,” Depicting a bearded man and grappling with a rattlesnake, sold for $800,000 to an unidentified buyer.

Days after the collection was made public on Christie’s website, the Mexican Embassy in France said in a statement that it had reached out to France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Europe to share their concerns. about the auction, essentially saying that Mexico’s “national heritage” shouldn’t be sold.

A stone Mayan carving called “Hacha Maya” is auctioned off at Christie’s.


In the letter, the embassy also argued that commercialization of archaeological artifacts encourages transnational crime and facilitates the looting of cultural property by illegal excavations. In the eyes of Mexico, any archaeologically relevant pieces of the area that are currently abroad are considered stolen, due to anti-trafficking regulations dating back to the 1800s.

In a written statement to The Daily Beast, a Christie’s spokesperson wrote: “We dedicate significant resources to investigating the provenance of the works we offer for sale and have specific procedures in place, including Both require our sellers to provide proof of ownership. In the event of an upcoming sale, these checks have been carried out and we have no reason to believe that the property came from an illegal source or that its sale would be against French law.”

Mexico’s current administration has redoubled efforts to recover the nation’s archaeological heritage from abroad. Since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office four years ago, the country has recovered more than 5,000 archaeological, historical, artistic and ethnographic items.

Most recently, in September of this year, an auction held by Bertolami Fine Arts in Rome was suspended after Mexico declared the works offered to be part of its cultural heritage. The artist decided to cancel the event and Italian authorities have opened an investigation into the matter.

“Our history is not for sale,” Mexican Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto said at a press conference shortly after Christie’s auction. “These artifacts are not luxury decorations for a home, they are part of what makes Mexico a country of culture.”

Efforts to stem the sale of Mexico’s cultural heritage in Europe appear to be slow. On November 17 and 20, Millon and Drouot, two French artists, auctioned off a number of antique artifacts, including an Olmec mask for about $4,000 that belonged to a “Mexican diplomat” in Monaco,” according to one document.

The Daily Beast has reached out to Mexico’s representative in Monaco but has not been reached for comment.


Stephane De Sakutin / AFP via Getty Images

“The main problem is demand, buyers. Most of them are wealthy Europeans who feel powerful and stylish,” Daniel Salinas Córdova, a Mexican researcher and archaeologist living in Germany, told The Daily Beast.

“Problem [with ancient artifacts] Just like drug trafficking. Without paying attention to who the buyers are, it will be very difficult to prevent the sale and commercialization of these works,” adds Córdova.

But reaching bidders is nearly impossible, as auction houses are under no obligation to share information about buyers. So far this year, Europe alone has had 23 auctions with a total of about 1,000 ancient Mexican artifacts sold.

Mexican law has banned the extraction of cultural products from Mexican soil for more than 100 years, but many countries where the last antiquities have been illegally mined and traded have not passed legislation on the issue. this subject until 1970, when UNESCO published an international treaty stipulating that all cultural property belonged to its country of origin and could not be imported, exported or transferred.

All artifacts for sale today are described as having been obtained before 1970 to prove their legitimacy.

The goods, as Córdova explains, were largely extracted between the 1920s and 1970s, from known and unknown archaeological sites around Mexico by “poor families” who often brokers pay a few pesos for the items obtained. for several thousand customers abroad. Córdova said the practice is still happening, but on a much smaller scale.

“Some buyers think they are protecting the artifacts by buying them back and getting them out of Mexico, but in reality they are privatizing our history and denying access to many Mexicans to even find out which pieces exist,” said Córdova. “Sadly we Mexicans don’t know how many pieces are in the homes of rich and powerful Europeans and we only learn about them when they die and the pieces go up for auction. ”

A new auction of at least a dozen antique artifacts from Mexico to be held in France will take place on December 3 at the Million auction house. Mexican authorities tried to stop the event, but the puzzle pieces were still listed, with an expected price of up to $200,000. Mexican demand to stop selling their Aztec artefacts


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