Christie’s to auction “grave robbed” artefacts

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A Loma Negra nose ornament from around the year 0AD, valued at $25,000-30,000 

The Peru Explorer magazine has today leveled accusations that an auction at Christie’s in New York on May 23rd will sell off illegally trafficked Peruvian national treasures. The 35 archaeological pieces come from a number of locations around the country, including Lambayeque, Ancash, and Ica, and their combined value is estimated at US$350,000.

Although aware of the situation, the government and National Institute of Culture (INC, the body in charge of protection of such pieces) have made no move to stop their sale.

According to the magazine’s editor, “they have not even contacted a single archeologist to verify the provenance of these pieces. Many of us know from which tombs they were stolen and in which year, which would allow us to prove that their possession is illegal, but nobody is doing anything.”

He added that a Huari textile valued at $35,000 and a Mochica vase with gold adornments will also go under the hammer at Christie’s on May 17th, unless the Peruvian government disputes the legality of ownership of the pieces.

Archeologist Daniel Chumpitaz deplored the government’s inaction, saying that “there is not even any intention on the part of the government or the INC to bid for the pieces in an attempt to recover them”.

On an international level, these accusations have had some effect; institutions linked to the cultural heritage of the Americas plan a protest outside the auction house on the day of the sale.

Among the items included in the auction will be a Nasca textile (valued at $35,000), and Inca mortar ($30,000), and a circular Cupisnique cup from Ancash that is the only known piece of its kind (valued at $20,000). Artifacts from other South and Central American countries will also be sold.

2 Responses

  1. Your May 12th article on pre-Columbian art auctions is false and misleading. Christie’s has carefully reviewed each lot of property in its upcoming Pre-Columbian Art sale, including those lots originating in Peru, to ensure that the sale of such property complies with all applicable laws and regulations, including the bilateral agreement between Peru and the United States. We have received no information from the Peruvian government or from any other sources which would lead us to believe that any of these lots were stolen or improperly exported out of Peru. As with any property sold by Christie’s, we will investigate any information we may receive concerning the provenance of the lots at issue and will notify and fully cooperate with law enforcement officials as necessary.

    Additionally, you erroneously reported that Christie’s will hold Pre-Columbian Art auctions on May 17 and 23. In fact, Christie’s is holding only one auction of Pre-Columbian Art and that auction is scheduled for May 23. The May 17 auction cited was held at another New York auction house. Moreover, the two lots highlighted (i.e., the textile and the vase) are not being offered by Christie’s but by the other auction house.

    Thank you for sharing this information with you readers.

    Best,
    Sara Fox
    Christie’s Public Relations

  2. Hmmm…. misleading, yes, perhaps, in that an article from a Peruvian paper is citing mainly Peruvian sources; though anyone who can read between the lines will realize that the government is doing nothing because the auction is legal. It would be just as ridiculous to assume that Christie’s would hold an illegal auction as it would be to believe that moral contraints played any part in their decision making protest.
    But false? One error I’ll give you, in terms of the second auction, but I stand by the truth of the rest of the article until you can show facts to the contrary: Peru Explorer did say those things, as did Chumpitaz.

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