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Missouri cave with ancient Native American drawings sold: NPR


A Missouri cave featuring artwork from the Osage Nation dating back more than 1,000 years was auctioned on Tuesday. The art inside “Picture Cave” shows humans, animals and mythical creatures.

Alan Cressler / AP


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Alan Cressler / AP

Missouri cave with ancient Native American drawings sold: NPR

A Missouri cave featuring artwork from the Osage Nation dating back more than 1,000 years was auctioned on Tuesday. The art inside “Picture Cave” shows humans, animals and mythical creatures.

Alan Cressler / AP

O’FALLON, Missouri – A Missouri cave containing Native American artwork from more than 1,000 years ago was auctioned on Tuesday, 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 owners for what is known as the “Picture Cave”, as well as the 43 rolling acres surrounding it near the town of Warrenton, about 60 miles ( 97 kilometers) west of Saint-Louis.

Bryan Laughlin, director of Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers, the St. Louis-based company that manages the auction, said the successful bidder declined to be named. A family from Saint-Louis who have owned the land since 1953 has mainly used it for hunting.

The cave was the site of sacred rituals and burial of the dead. It also has more than 290 prehistoric glyphs, “making it the largest collection of polychrome paintings of the indigenous peoples of Missouri,” according to the auction site.

This is exactly 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.

“Auctioning a sacred American Indian site really sends the wrong message,” said Diaz-Granados. “It’s like auctioning off the Sistine Chapel.”

The Osage Nation, in a statement, called the sale “really heartbreaking.”

Missouri cave with ancient Native American drawings sold: NPR
Missouri cave with ancient Native American drawings sold: NPR

“Our ancestors lived in this region for 1,300 years,” the statement read. “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 that various means were used to create art. Charred botanical material was used to draw. For a representation of a mythical being, the artist created a white figure by scratching the brown sandstone.

Diaz-Granados said the intricate details set the Missouri 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 details of clothing, details of hairstyle, feathers, weapons. It’s really amazing.”

Years ago, analytical chemists at Texas A&M used pigment samples to determine that designs were at least 1,000 years old.

The cave also has another story, Laughlin said. European explorers traveled in the 1700s and wrote the name of the ship’s captain and the names of some of the crew on the walls. It’s also the year-round home for endangered Indiana gray bats.

Laughlin said there are plenty of reasons to believe the cave will remain both protected and respected. On the one hand, he said, Selkirk looked at potential buyers.

Then there is the law.

Missouri’s revised law 194.410 states that any person or entity who “intentionally disturbs, destroys, vandalizes, or damages a marked or unmarked human burial site commits a Class D felony.” The statute also makes it a crime to profit from cultural objects obtained from the site.

Finally, there is the location.

“You can’t take a vehicle and just drive to the cave. You actually have to go through the woods to higher ground and through a 3ft by 3ft opening secured by the Missouri Historical Society with ‘steel bars,’ Laughlin said.

Diaz-Granados hopes the new owner will donate it to the Osage Nation.

“This is their cave,” she said. “It is their sacred sanctuary, and it should be theirs.”