Mexico’s archaeological heritage remains an object of desire for collectors around the world. The country’s Secretary of Culture has denounced a new auction of pre-Hispanic objects that is scheduled to take place on November 20 on Catawiki, a Dutch website that specializes in the online sale of collectibles. Catawiki is set to auction 38 objects, the photographs of which were analyzed by experts at Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), who determined that they form part of Mexico’s cultural legacy. “They are archaeological monuments that constitute an inalienable and inviolable heritage,” the Ministry of Culture stated.
Sellers identified as Antiques 4U, J. B. Archaeology-Ancient Art and user-6907b16 have organized this sale through Catawiki, an online auction portal that has over 100,000 registered sellers. Catawiki offers a wide range of objects for sale, including classic luxury cars, fashion pieces, watches and jewelry, wines, Asian art and now pre-Hispanic items from Mexico.
“The pieces available for sale cover the time span from the Late Preclassic period to the Mesoamerican Postclassic period, between 300 BC and 1500 AD,” Mexico’s Secretary of Culture said in a press release warning of the impending auction. “It is worth noting that the items determined to be of pre-Columbian origin are culturally related to styles from the Gulf Coast of Mexico, the Mayan area, the Central High Plateau, the Tumbas de Tiro tradition of western Mexico, as well as from Casas Grandes culture, which was established in the territory that today forms part of northern Mexico,” the statement added.
Catawiki has responded to the Secretary of Culture’s complaint. In a press release it sent to EL PAÍS, the online auction website said that “we employ hundreds of in-house experts who select and review each object, according to strict guidelines and the applicable rules and regulations, before putting it up for auction. As a result, all objects in this auction have passed inspection and have an export license or proof of provenance, where necessary.” Catawiki added: “We have already communicated with the Mexican authorities about this matter and, as always, we are ready to support any legitimate request.”
Mexico’s Secretary of Culture said that the INAH has filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. It has also notified the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Interpol “so that they implement the necessary actions and steps, within the scope of their authority, to achieve the repatriation of these items.” The Secretary of Culture, Alejandra Frausto, has asked Catawiki and those promoting the sale to stop the auction.
Mexico has redoubled its efforts to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage. In its cultural policy, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government has prioritized recovering archaeologically valuable pieces scattered around the world, as well as preventing auctions and the cultural appropriation of indigenous art, which generates millions of dollars in profits for large fashion companies. “We have fiercely battled the auction houses, which has triggered a whole media campaign,” Secretary Frausto explained in an interview with EL PAÍS. According to Frausto, authorities have managed to recover some 9,300 auctioned or privately owned pieces. “We have also worked with Italy, the United States, Germany and South Korea, who have helped us repatriate many pieces, and we will continue adding more. We have been very aggressive, but we are not the only ones. We, the countries who have had our heritage plundered, are united in this effort,” the Secretary of Culture declared.