Mexico asks French auctioneers to halt sale of artifacts

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The Mexican government is asking a French auction house to halt the planned sale of a collection of about 120 pre-Hispanic artifacts, saying some are fakes and others should be returned to Mexico.

The relics are being offered by the French auction house Millon at a sale scheduled for Wednesday in Paris. The auction house did not respond to a request for comment.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said 95 of the mainly stone and clay statuettes appear to be from Mexican cultures like the Olmec, Teotihuacan and Maya. It said other pieces may be from Colombia.

“It is worth noting that a certain number of the items listed in the catalog could be recently created imitations,” the department added.

As for the genuine pieces, such sales “encourage looting, illicit trafficking and forgeries,” it said. Buying or selling them for private collections “deprives archaeological pieces of the cultural, historic and symbolic essence, and reduces them to mere decorative objects.”

The collection includes clay fertility figurines, pottery, jewelry and other items. A French couple, Manichak and Jean Aurance, started the collection in the 1960s.

Mexico passed a law in 1972 prohibiting the export of such artifacts. It was unclear if the relics were taken from Mexico before then.

One stone fragment — reportedly a piece of a carved stone column from Guatemala — was removed from the sale by prior agreement.