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Mesoamerican artifacts from Mexico Three of 17 Mesoamerican artifacts from Mexico that were scheduled to go on the auction block at the Bertolami Fine Arts auction house in Rome last Thursday.

Italy halts auction of archaeological artifacts on Mexico’s request

Many of the items had already attracted early bids

Italian authorities intervened to cancel an auction in Rome at which 17 Mexican archaeological artifacts were to go on the block.

Culture Minister Alejandra Frausto said the timely action of Mexico’s ambassador in Italy, Carlos García de Alba, and the European nation’s chief of police for the protection of cultural heritage, Roberto Riccardi, were crucial to the suspension of the auction, which the Bertolami Fine Arts auction house planned to hold last Thursday.

The force commanded by Riccardi seized the 17 artifacts, and Italian authorities will return them to Mexico if it is confirmed they were illegally sold in Mexico or extracted from here.

The cancellation of the auction is the “fruit of cultural diplomacy, dialogue and the permanent work” of Mexico and Italy, Frausto said, adding that both nations recognize their heritage as one of their greatest treasures.

“We will continue to fight against the trafficking of cultural assets head-on,” she said.

ancient earthenware pot from Michocán
Detail of one of the 17 items — a three-pronged earthenware pot made during the Mesoamerican postclassic period.

Among the lots Bertolami planned to sell were pre-Hispanic pots, bowls and anthropomorphic figurines from western Mexico and the country’s Gulf coast.

The jewel of the collection, according to the newspaper El País, was a painted mud bowl with a three-pronged base. An artifact of the Purépecha culture, the piece dates back to the Mesoamerican late postclassic period, which began in 1200 and concluded in 1521. Other pieces date back to the early and late classic periods, meaning they were made between A.D. 200 and 900.

Many of the lots that would have been sold had already attracted early bids and had been tentatively assigned to buyers.

It is not the first time this year that Italy has helped Mexico reclaim lost cultural artifacts. Italian authorities sent 23 pre-Hispanic relics back here in May.

Mexico has also tried to stop recent auctions of such relics in Paris and New York but failed. It is also trying to stop the sale of 74 Mexican artifacts in Germany this week.

“The Mexican government will insist on permanent efforts to obtain the restitution of archaeological and historical assets that are the property of the nation and which are abroad illegally,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Culture Ministry and the National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a joint statement announcing that the Italian auction had been halted.

With reports from El País 

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