Sale of Missouri pictograph cave disappoints First Nation

Historic art cave sold

A Missouri cave containing Native American artwork from more than 1,000 years ago has been sold at auction, a sale that disappointed leaders of the Osage Nation who had hoped to buy the land to protect and preserve a site that's sacred to them.

A bidder agreed to pay $2.2 million to private owners for what’s known as “Picture Cave,” along with the 17 hilly hectares that surround it near the eastern Missouri town of Warrenton. The winning bidder was not named.

The cave was the site of sacred rituals and burying of the dead. It also has more than 290 prehistoric hieroglyphic symbols used to represent sounds or meanings.

A St. Louis family that's owned the land since 1953 has mainly used it for hunting.

Researcher 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 is a scholar in Osage oral history, and Diaz-Granados is a research associate in the anthropology department at Washington University in St. Louis.

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

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

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

The cave features drawings of people, animals, birds and mythical creatures.

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