Mexico protests French auction of pre-Hispanic artifacts

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican officials said Tuesday the country has lodged a protest with the French government over a planned auction in Paris of about 30 pre-Hispanic sculptures and other artifacts.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said it also filed a criminal complaint, arguing it is illegal to export or sell such pieces.

Christies of Paris says it will auction 39 artifacts Feb. 9, including “an impressive” 1,500-year-old stone mask from the ancient city of Teotihuacan, and a “majestic,” equally ancient statue of the fertility goddess Cihuateotl, apparently from the Totonaco culture.

The director of the Mexican institute, Diego Prieto Hernández, said about 30 of the pieces appear to be genuine, but he accused the auction house of putting some fakes up for bid as well.

“The dispute is not with France or with the French government, but rather with an act of commercialization that should not happen,” Prieto Hernández said.

Some of the pieces appear to have been in France or other parts of Europe for many years. It was not clear whether their ownership pre-dates the 1972 Mexican law that forbids export or sale.

Either way, Prieto Hernández said, “the Mexican government does not accept, and will never accept, the looting and illegal sale of national heritage.”

In 2019, Mexico failed in efforts to stop another French auction house’s sale of about 120 pre-Hispanic artifacts. Millon auctions sold many of those pieces for well above their pre-sale estimated prices.

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