Officials in Mexico call on Dutch auction house to halt sale of pre-Columbian artefacts

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Mexican authorities have condemned Dutch auction house De Zwaan over its upcoming sale of pre-Columbian artefacts that the Ministry of Culture and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) claim are protected by federal Mexican law.

De Zwaan, Amsterdam’s oldest auction house specialising in art, antiques and design, is scheduled to sell a collection of pre-Columbian art assembled by a late German couple as part of an auction this week.

Specialists have identified 30 objects from the Maya, Olmec, Chupícuaro and Remojadas cultures that should be protected under Mexico’s cultural heritage laws, the INAH said. A complaint has been filed with Mexico’s  Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) and Interpol has been notified, the INAH said in a statement. Mexico’s secretary of culture Alejandra Frausto Guerrero also sent a letter to De Zwaan expressing her disapproval of the auction on the behalf of the country.

Most of the objects in the sale were purchased from a gallery in Munich in the 1970s and the 80s, according to De Zwaan’s website (the auction house did not immediately return a request for comment). De Zwaan identified some of the objects as being from Mexico, including an Olmec green jadeite stone mask, though it wasn’t immediately clear which artefacts are being disputed by Mexico. Another private collection of pre-Columbian artefacts, mostly originating from Peru and Colombia, will also go up for auction on Wednesday (10 May) at De Zwaan.

Last year, the Netherlands returned 223 pre-Columbian artefacts to Mexico through government cooperation. Over the past five years, Mexican president Andres López Obrador’s administration has shored up efforts to repatriate Mexican artefacts. Thousands of objects have been returned to the country since López Obrador took office in 2018. In March, the INAH and Ministry of Culture denounced a Parisian auction house for selling pre-Columbian artwork authorities said are protected by Mexican law.

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