Cave Featuring Native American Wall Art Is Sold to Anonymous Bidder

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The cave, which sold for $2.2 cardinal successful St. Louis connected Tuesday, is considered a ineffable tract by members of the Osage Nation. A tribal person called the merchantability “heartbreaking.”

Some of the partition  creation  successful  the Missouri cave sold astatine  auction this week is implicit    1,000 years old.
Credit...Alan Cressler, via Associated Press

Isabella Grullón Paz

Sept. 16, 2021, 1:00 p.m. ET

A Missouri cave considered to beryllium the astir important stone creation tract successful North America was sold astatine auction connected Tuesday to a backstage buyer, devastating leaders of the Osage Nation people who had hoped to bargain the cave to “protect and sphere our astir ineffable site.”

The buyer, who remained anonymous, agreed to acquisition what is known to historians arsenic the Picture Cave, on with 43 acres of hilly surrounding land, for $2.2 million, outbidding tribal representatives who were contiguous astatine the auction.

“Picture Cave is our astir ineffable site,” Andrea A. Hunter, manager and tribal historical preservation serviceman for the Osage Nation, said successful a statement. “It is simply a burial site, and it is simply a ineffable ritual site. Picture Cave is invaluable and irreplaceable.”

The cave is simply a “subterranean masterpiece,” according to Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers, the St. Louis-based steadfast handling the auction. It contains astir 290 glyphs, immoderate astir 1,000 years old, the steadfast said, making it the largest postulation of Native American polychrome paintings successful Missouri. The onshore it sits on, which was utilized by the erstwhile owners arsenic hunting grounds, is astir 50 miles westbound of St. Louis.

“It was truly heartbreaking going done this process,” Dr. Hunter said successful an interrogation connected Wednesday. “We’ve been trying to enactment with the landowners for galore months. It was conscionable unfortunate that they decided to instrumentality this to auction and effort to get arsenic overmuch wealth for it arsenic they could.”

Bryan Laughlin, enforcement manager astatine Selkirk, said that each the bidders had been vetted to enactment successful the auction. No conditions were acceptable to beryllium capable to acquisition the site, but a Missouri statute threatening a felony complaint to anyone who “knowingly disturbs, destroys, vandalizes oregon damages a marked oregon unmarked quality burial site” was work aloud earlier the bidding began, helium said.

The erstwhile owners were acrophobic with the extortion and preservation of the cave, and they wanted to guarantee that the adjacent “steward” was idiosyncratic with the fiscal means to found further probe of the site, Mr. Laughlin said. He added that though helium could not stock the buyer’s identity, helium knew that the idiosyncratic was a “cave conservator” who owned a immense postulation of caves and actively worked to sphere them.

According to Dr. Hunter, the household that owned the onshore since 1953 had been successful negotiations with the people successful the months earlier the auction and primitively asked for $1 cardinal — “quite a spot of money” for the Osage Nation, adjacent aft it received further enactment from the Conservation Fund and Native Land Conservancy.

For the Osage Nation, the Picture Cave — whose array of glyphs constitutes 1 of the largest and astir elaborate depictions of Native American beingness of its benignant successful the United States — is simply a spot of genesis. It is wherever Osage ancestors performed ineffable rituals to marque and memorialize important decisions for the tribe. It is besides a ineffable burial ground, Dr. Hunter said.

“Osage elders person called the cave the womb of the universe,” James R. Duncan, an archaeologist and anthropologist who studies the Osage and Native American ethnography, said connected Wednesday.

He and his wife, Carol Diaz-Granados, a probe subordinate successful the anthropology section astatine Washington University successful St. Louis, spent 20 years researching the cave and its creation done an statement with the erstwhile owners. They said they were devastated by the merchantability and believed the onshore should beryllium returned to the Osage Nation.

Ms. Diaz-Granados said the cave contained immoderate of the astir elaborate depictions of past Native American clothing, weaponry, symbolic accouterments, headdresses and ceremonies disposable anywhere. “There are things present that are not successful immoderate different site,” she said.

Image

Credit...Alan Cressler, via Associated Press

Mr. Laughlin said determination had been “some concern” astir the aboriginal of the cave, adding that radical had suggested that the onshore beryllium donated.

“While I bash not disagree with that, however bash you bash that?” helium said. “We adjacent looked into it, with the family.” He said aft communicating with experts, it was yet decided that “the lone mode to found the worth of the spot was to vet bidders, and let the idiosyncratic that cared astir it the astir to beryllium the adjacent stewards of it.

According to Dr. Hunter, the process of donating onshore to Native American tribes is reasonably straightforward. “All they would person had to bash is ask,” she said. “They would person adjacent gotten a taxation write-off.”

Dr. Hunter, who has ne'er seen the tract herself, says she hopes to find retired who the caller owners are, and to enactment with them to support the tract and guarantee that Osage Nation members person entree to it.

“We conscionable person to determination forward; we’re dilatory getting our onshore back,” Dr. Hunter said. “We weren’t palmy with the Picture Cave, but we volition not forget. We volition not springiness up.”

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