A Missouri Cave With Ancient Native American Drawings Has Been Sold

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A Missouri cave featuring artwork from the Osage Nation dating more than 1,000 years was sold at auction on Tuesday. The art inside «Picture Cave» shows humans, animals and mythical creatures.

Alan Cressler/AP


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Alan Cressler/AP

Enlarge this image

Alan Cressler/AP

A Missouri cave featuring artwork from the Osage Nation dating more than 1,000 years was sold at auction on Tuesday. Experts who have studied the cave were concerned about the auction, but the director of the auction company said protections are in place to prohibit the new buyer from exploiting the cave, including a Missouri law that makes doing so a crime.

Alan Cressler/AP

«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. Diaz-Granados said various means were used to create the art. Charred botanical material was used to draw. For one depiction of a mythical being, the artist created a white figure by scraping off the brown sandstone.

Diaz-Granados said the intricate details set the Missouri cave apart from other sites with ancient drawings.

«You get stick figures in other rock art sites, or maybe one little feather on the top of the head, or a figure holding a weapon,» she said. «But in Picture Cave you get actual clothing details, headdress details, feathers, weapons. It’s truly amazing.»

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

The cave has other history, too, Laughlin said. European explorers visited in the 1700s and wrote the ship captain’s name and names of some crew members on the walls. It’s also the year-round home to endangered Indiana gray bats.

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

Then there’s the law.

Missouri Revised Statute 194.410 states that any person or entity that «knowingly disturbs, destroys, vandalizes, or damages a marked or unmarked human burial site commits a class D felony.» The statute also makes it a felony to profit from cultural items obtained from the site.

Finally, there’s the location.

«You can’t take a vehicle and just drive up to the cave. You have to actually trek through the woods to higher ground and go through a 3-foot-by-3-foot opening that’s secured by the Missouri Historical Society with steel bars,» Laughlin said.

Diaz-Granados is holding out hope that the new owner will donate it to the Osage Nation.

«That’s their cave,» she said. «That’s their sacred shrine, and it should go back to them.»

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