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Paris auction of Hopi masks and artifacts nets $1.2 million

April 12, 2013 at 11:42 PM   |   Comments

PARIS, April 12 (UPI) -- A French court let an auction of ancient American Indian artifacts proceed Friday in Paris, where items brought in $1.2 million amid protest, officials said.

The court denied a request to delay the sale until the items' provenance was determined, The New York Times reported.

One item, an 1880s headdress known as the Crow Mother estimated to be worth $80,000, sold for $210,000, sparking applause from the 200 people in the room even as a woman stood and shouted: "Don't purchase that. It is a sacred being," the Times said.

The Hopi tribe of Arizona challenged the auction of about painted masks and headdresses, saying they were sacred, communally owned items they believe were stolen more than 100 years ago, the newspaper said.

Five of 70 items did not sell, and some sold below their low estimates.

"This is a very unfortunate outcome, as these objects will now be sold and dispersed, and the likelihood that they will eventually return to their true home amongst the Hopi is severely reduced," Pierre Servan-Schreiber, a lawyer representing the tribe, said earlier. "It also probably means that French institutions are still not fully aware of the devastating consequences that such mercantile fate for truly sacred objects may have on tribes who have already suffered so much."

U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin Thursday urged the sale be suspended because of "the importance of these sacred objects to the Hopi Nation" and to allow time to determine the ownership history of the items.

Neret-Minet Tessier & Sarrou, the auctioneer handling the sale, hailed the decision, the Times said.

"It is important not to create a precedent validating the prohibition of the sale of any object of a sacred nature, regardless of the culture concerned," the auction house said. "Our goal has always been to showcase Hopi culture and make it accessible to the largest number of people and in strict compliance with the law."

U.S. actor-director Robert Redford, who has close relations with the Hopi, called the sale a "sacrilege" with "grave moral consequences."

"These ceremonial objects have a sacred value and belong to the Hopi and only the Hopi," Redford said in a letter published Thursday.

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