Mexico seeks to halt Paris auction of pre-Hispanic artifacts
The disputed items include a stone mask said to be from the Teotihuacan culture. © Screen grab /

Mexican officials said Tuesday the country had lodged a protest with the French government over a planned auction in Paris of pre-Hispanic sculptures and other artifacts, challenging the authenticity of several items.

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

Christie's of Paris says it will auction 39 artefacts on February 9, including a 1,500-year-old stone mask from the ancient city of Teotihuacan, estimated at up to 550,000 euros, and an equally ancient statue of the fertility goddess Cihuateotl, purportedly 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.

His institute has asked Mexico's foreign ministry to recover the objects.

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 artefacts. The Millon auction house sold many of those pieces for well above their pre-sale estimated prices.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)