Culture for $ale
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Yahoo! removes controversial auction
JUNE 22, 2000

A controversial listing on the Yahoo! auction site was removed on Wednesday after a short investigation by officials at the site. According to the company, customer care officials pulled the listing "Archic [sic] child, blanket and mat" within minutes of learning of the item.

The listing was yet another in a series of auctions which have raised questions on the sale of cultural artifacts online. Earlier this month, an item on the eBay auction site was eventually removed from the site, due to questions on its authenticity.

But to many, the Yahoo! item was particularly disturbing, for it involved the sale of a human remains. The listing included a photograph of the remains of an infant and what the seller termed a "burial mat," accompanied by a crudely written description of the artifacts, alleged to have been uncovered in western Texas.

"Archaic burial, 2,000-4000PB...Featured in the museum display of the Pecos Rio Grande Museum of Early Man...The child is far to [sic] rare to allow for commercial shipping. It will be available for inspection and acceptance of highest bidder."

Opening price: $250,000.

The description also indicated the seller would be available for questions. However, when reached by telephone, David Reichelt, an Arivaca, Arizona resident who admitted being affiliated with the Pecos Museum, refused to comment on the museum as well as the auction itself.

The Pecos Museum appears to be a unique space, whose displays are currently only available online. "The PECOS is a new era museum, a twenty first century anthropological display. The featured displays will not only offer you artifacts not to be seen in museums elsewhere," its homepage boasts.

The museum and its offering underscore the problems of the Internet age. Should officials from Texas, Arizona, or the federal government investigate, the lack of a physical space, coupled with the reserved anonymity of the museum itself, would make it hard to track down the artifacts in question.

The item's listing on Yahoo! also presents problems. The site depends on the community to police the auctions and the company will remove items brought to their attention that violate or appear to violate the auction guidelines and terms of service.

But with over 1000 matches returned by a simple "Native American" query, Yahoo's policy of relying on community policing to monitor potential violations of federal law involving cultural artifacts could result in serious infractions going unnoticed by the site.

Initially set to expire today, the listing remained on the site for 11 days without any action at all by the company. Yahoo! removed the item mid-day Wednesday based on the concerns of quick-acting Internet users, many of whom only discovered the auction early Wednesday morning.

For their part, Yahoo! thanks Internet users for bringing items like the pulled listing to their attention. But the company did not comment specifically on its knowledge of potential violations of federal law.

Nor did they comment on the exact guidelines the auction violated, except to note that the guidelines do not allow items which may violate law to be sold. The company also does not allow bodies or body parts to be sold and will also remove items which it deems "offensive."

Next Week: Indianz.Com continues its investigation into the sale of cultural artifacts online.

Read the entire text of the controversial listing:
Yahoo! Auctions - Archic child, blanket, and mat (The Talking Circle 6/22)

Relevant Links:
The Pecos Rio Grande Museum of Early Man:
Note: Indianz.Com does not recommend that children or the elderly view this site. It contains content which may be offensive to many.

Related Stories:
Culture for Sale: Sitting Bull (The Talking Circle 6/20)
Fighting forgeries in Indian Country (Arts and Entertainment 5/18)
Culture for Sale: Let the buyer beware (The Talking Circle 5/23)