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Osage Nation Decries Sale of Cave Containing Indigenous Art

A historic Missouri cave containing Native American artwork from over 1,000 years in the past was auctioned off yesterday, September 15, for $2.2 million. The Osage Nation, which hoped to purchase the sacred website to guard and protect it, known as the sale “truly heartbreaking.”

Often known as the Image Cave, the two-cave system is nestled inside a 43-acre stretch of land in Warren County, Missouri, about 60 miles west of St. Louis. Students have known as it “the most important rock art site in North America” as a result of of a set of 290 prehistoric glyphs on its partitions. It’s believed to be the biggest focus of Indigenous American work ever found within the historical cultural area as soon as known as Meso-America. The cave was a sacred ritual and burial website for Indigenous tribes, primarily the Osage Nation, who managed the realm earlier than their lands had been dispossessed. The cave system can be dwelling to at least one of the biggest populations of the endangered Indiana grey bat.

The prehistoric cave, together with the 43 acres of lush pastures surrounding it, was auctioned by the St. Louis-based Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers on behalf of a three-generation household whose members initially bought the property from personal possession in 1953 and used it primarily for searching.

In an e mail to Hyperallergic, Selkirk’s director Bryan Laughlin stated the earlier house owners had been “the driving force behind [the cave’s] protection, preservation, and understanding.” 

The brand new proprietor, whose title has not been disclosed, is a “cave conservationist who wishes to remain private,” stated Laughlin.

The sale prompted the outcry of Indigenous teams and students who imagine {that a} sacred archaeological website of this magnitude shouldn’t be bought to the very best bidder.

“Our ancestors lived in this area for 1300 years,” a statement by the Osage Nation learn. “This was our land. We have hundreds of thousands of our ancestors buried throughout Missouri and Illinois, including Picture Cave.”

Image Cave is nestled inside a 43-acre stretch of land in Warren County, Missouri

Carol Diaz-Granados and James Duncan, two of the authors of the e book Picture Cave: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Mississippian Cosmos, had been among the many main opponents of the sale.

“Auctioning off a sacred American Indian site truly sends the wrong message,” Diaz-Granados advised several media outlets. “It’s like auctioning off the Sistine Chapel.”

In response, Laughlin advised Hyperallergic that potential bidders had been vetted to make sure the safety of the traditional artworks.

All signs point to the cave being preserved for years to come,” he stated. “Selkirk does not wish the property to be altered or disturbed in any fashion. We champion the further research and protection of not only this historical archeological site, but all history.”

Requested if he sympathizes with the frustration and ache of Osage Nation, Laughlin replied: “Criticism is necessary and helps ensure accountability. There are many different feelings expressed regarding the sale of the property and all should be respected; we do not wish any member of any community to feel pain.”

The cave options elaborate drawings of human figures, animals, birds, and legendary creatures. In response to Diaz-Granados, a analysis affiliate within the anthropology division at Washington College in St. Louis, charred botanical materials was used to make many of the drawings. Others had been etched onto the sandstone. Analytical chemists from Texas A&M College, who had analyzed pigment samples from the cave, decided the drawings had been at the least 1,000 years outdated.

One of the traditional drawings of Missouri’s Image Cave

Diaz-Granados additionally famous that the extent of element within the Missouri cave units it other than different websites with historical cave artwork.

“You get stick figures in other rock art sites, or maybe one little feather on the top of the head, or a figure holding a weapon,” the scholar stated. “But in Picture Cave you get actual clothing details, headdress details, feathers, weapons. It’s truly amazing.”

The cave’s partitions additionally bear witness to the colonization of Indigenous lands. In response to Laughlin, European “explorers” who visited the realm within the 1700s scribbled the names of the ship captain and his crew members on the partitions.

Feeling helpless in opposition to the powers of the market, Diaz-Granados stated she’s clinging to the hope that the brand new proprietor will donate the property to the Osage Nation.

“That’s their cave,” she stated. “That’s their sacred shrine, and it should go back to them.”

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