U.S. auction house withdraws Spanish conquistador manuscript after Mexico's theft complaint

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A U.S. auction house has stopped the sale of a 16th-century manuscript linked to the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes after researchers said it was probably stolen from the national archives of Mexico.

The document, dating back to 1521, was a royal order to Cortes, the leader of a Spanish force that colonized what is modern-day Mexico, and Pedro de Alvarado, whom the text identifies as the mayor of the town hall of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire.

New York art house Swann Auction Galleries had advertised the document’s sale on its website with a price range between $20,000 to $30,000 for a planned Sept. 24 auction.

The manuscript was a “contemporary scribal transcript of the Cortes-signed original which resides in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville,” Swann Auction Galleries said earlier this week.

But on Wednesday the auction house told Reuters that the gallery “will be withdrawing this lot from the auction.” It did not say if the manuscript would be returned to Mexico.

The gallery’s announcement came days after three Mexican researchers and a colleague from the University of Valladolid in Spain raised concerns about the provenance of the manuscript and alerted Mexican authorities in a bid to stop the sale.

The researchers said the image of the manuscript on the Swann website was similar to another taken in 2010 by a Spanish scholar of Cortes when the document was in Mexico’s General Archive of the Nation.

The manuscript was held in an area of the archive that houses some of the oldest documents preserved in the American continent, many by the hand of (Cortes).

Carlos Ruiz, director general of the archive, this week said looting from the institution had been “monumental.”

Michel Oujdik, one of the Mexican researchers who alerted the authorities, said they must investigate and “close the door on this kind of document theft.”

Reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Steve Orlofsky