A cave in Missouri with ancient illustrations was sold for $2.2 million in an auction this week – causing widespread discontent among historians and members of Osage Nation alike.
The ‘Picture Cave’ is a prehistoric site that was used by the Osage Nation tribes as a burial site for centuries. The cave contains almost three hundred glyphs and illustrations – making it one of the most important sites of rock art in entire North America. Further, unlike most other rock arts, the illustrations in the Picture Cave were highly detailed and contained important information about its people.
The property on which the cave was located belonged to a family since 1953, mainly as a hunting ground. Recently, they approached the St. Louis-based firm Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers. On September 14, the auction concluded with a price of $2 million (with an additional $200k in premium).
However, this caused deep resentment among the Osage Nation members, who called it ‘truly heartbreaking’. The tribe had offered to buy the property from the family, but negotiations fell through. A heartfelt message after the sale talked about how this was their land and “hundreds of thousands of [their] ancestors buried throughout Missouri and Illinois, including Picture Cave.”
Bryan Laughlin (Director, Selkirk) expressed his astonishment at the failure of the owners to not recognize the importance of the site. However, he added that his firm had vetted potential buyers and tried to ensure that the site wouldn’t be harmed by its new owners. He added that Missouri had laws preventing harm to human burial sites.
Others, however, were harsher in their critique – like Carol Diaz-Granados, St. Louis-based anthropologist who had written a book on the caves. She said that the auction was like selling the Sistine Chappel. “That’s their cave. That’s their sacred shrine, and it should go back to them,” she added.