Missouri cave containing Native American artwork from over 1,000 years ago has been auctioned off, disappointing Osage Nation leaders who hoped to buy the land to “protect and preserve our most sacred site.” .
One bidder has agreed to pay $ 2.2 million to private landowners for what is known as the “Picture Cave”, as well as the 43 rolling acres that surround it near the town of Warrenton, at approximately 60 miles west of St. Louis.
Bryan Laughlin, director of Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers in St. Louis, said the successful bidder declined to be named. A family from Saint-Louis who had owned the land since 1953 used it mainly for hunting.
The cave was the site of sacred rituals and burials. It has more than 290 prehistoric glyphs – hieroglyphic symbols used to represent sounds or meanings – “making it the largest collection of full color paintings of native Missouri people,” according to the auction house.
This is why Carol Diaz-Granados opposed the sale. She and her husband James Duncan spent 20 years researching the cave and wrote a book about it. Duncan specializes in Osage oral history and Diaz-Granados is an associate researcher in the anthropology department at Washington University in St. Louis.
“The auction of a sacred American Indian site really sends the wrong message,” said Diaz-Granados. “It’s like auctioning off the Sistine Chapel.”
The Osage Nation called the sale “really heartbreaking. Our ancestors lived in this region for 1300 years. It was our land. We have hundreds of thousands of our ancestors buried in Missouri and Illinois, including Picture Cave. “
The cave features drawings of people, animals, birds and mythical creatures. Diaz-Granados said their intricate details set the cave apart from other sites with ancient designs.
“You get stick figures in other rock art sites or maybe a little feather on the top of your head or a figure holding a weapon,” she said. “But in Picture Cave, you get real details about the clothes, the details of the headdress, the feathers, the weapons. It’s really unbelievable.
Years ago, analytical chemists at Texas A&M used pigment samples to determine that designs were at least 1,000 years old.
Laughlin said Missouri law states that anyone who “knowingly disturbs, destroys, vandalizes or damages a marked or unmarked human burial site” is a criminal, as is anyone profiting from cultural artifacts obtained at the site.
Diaz-Granados hopes the new owner will donate it to the Osage Nation.
“This is their sacred sanctuary,” she said. “And that should come back to them.”