An auction house in Colorado recently sold several historic Mayan artifacts, despite Mexican officials requesting the cancellation of the sale.

On March 26, Mexico‘s culture minister Alejandra Frausto Guerrero posted on social media that Artemis Gallery in Louisville, Colorado was selling “pieces that belong to the cultures of Mexico” and demanding the business stop its sale. “There is nothing more immoral than put a price on the heritage of a nation,” Frausto Guerrero wrote. It was tagged with the campaign “My Heritage Is Not for Sale”.

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Mexico’s first lady, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, also wrote a post about the March 28 auction on social media that day. She wrote in Spanish that the pieces being sold by Artemis Gallery were “illegally stolen from our territory” and tagged it with #mipatrimonionosevende.

Of the 25 items Mexico wanted, Artnet reported that 16 of them were sold, with some of the “passed lots” still available for purchase on the auction house and gallery’s website. These include a pair of matched Mayan ear flares, a stucco portrait of a royal Mayan woman from around 550 to 900 C.E., a Mayan Jadeite pendant with the head of the god Kionich Ahau, and a large polychrome pottery jar dating back to 1200 to 1450 C.E.

Bob Dodge, the co-owner of Artemis Gallery, told ARTnews in an email statement that “every major museum and every major auction house has offered items later identified as being stolen. It is not out of greed, insensitivity to cultural patrimony, desire to break any laws, etc. There are a few bad players in this arena and honest galleries like ourselves sometimes get fooled.”

In response to reporting by the Denver Post that Artemis Gallery sold pieces that were later determined to have been looted, including two Egyptian pieces, Dodge told ARTnews that one of the items had documentation dating back to the 1920s, “which would have made it legal” but was found to be a forgery.

In regards to claims made by Mexican officials, Dodge said that the country has submitted “no less than 10 complaints” against Artemis Gallery over the last decade.

“To them, every piece is stolen, every piece is important and every piece belongs back where it was made. These complaints have been reviewed by both the FBI and Homeland Security (HIS/ICE) and not one piece has ever been determined to be stolen or illegal.”

Dodge added that, in five instances, employees from the Mexican Consulate visited its facility demanding the repatriation of items. He called it illegal and that the campaign “Their Heritage Is Not For Sale” had prompted a barrage of obscene emails from Mexican email addresses.

The website of Artemis Gallery, and Dodge’s statement, emphasized a US law allowing for the sale of artifacts with clear provenance established after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. “All items legal to buy/sell under U.S. Statute covering cultural patrimony Code 2600, CHAPTER 14, and are guaranteed to be as described or your money back.”

In regards to the issue of ethics, Dodge cited the national and statewide laws banning the sale of ivory. “Although I strongly believe in saving every elephant from senseless slaughter, I am not sure that certain states banning the importation into their borders of mammoth ivory (a species that has been extinct for the last 10,000 years) has had any positive affect on elephant population,” he wrote in his statement to ARTnews. “However, we still follow those laws to the letter.”

The “My Heritage Is Not for Sale” campaigns against auction houses and museums have been successful at repatriating more than 13,500 archaeological and historical objects from 15 different countries since 2018. However, INAH archaeologists and officials told ARTnews in an earlier report that Mexico’s heritage conservation sector has been hurt by funding cuts, a labor shortage, and other factors that could prevent the looting and theft of artifacts in the first place.

Demands from Mexican officials that auction houses in the US stop the sale of Mexican artifacts will likely keep happening, as the INAH previously told ARTnews“It is an obligation of the Mexican government to continue filing the corresponding complaints and to keep raising our voice to prevent the trade of these types of objects that are sacred to Mexicans.”