When the seven-and-a-half-inch tall vase was discovered in the Buffalo, New York warehouse of Goodwill Industries of Western New York it was considered worthy of listing on its online auction site. The site is a marketplace the organization uses for items it thinks may fetch a better price from a wider online audience.
The unglazed vase with protrusions resembling warts had gotten bids of up to $75 within an hour after photographs and a description of it were posted online April 19. Employees had found a piece of paper inside the vase that said “found in a burial mound near Spiro Oklahoma in 1970” and added that to the online description. The vase was withdrawn from auction April 20 after Goodwill had gotten emails about it. The vase could be more than a thousand years old.
"People recognized it right away," Jeremy Juhasz, Goodwill's local social media and website coordinator, told Buffalo News. "We had no idea what it was." But an Indian Country Today Media Network reader points out that can't be the case, as the online auction clearly stated that the item was listed as an "Indian Burial Ground Artifact From Spiro Oklahoma."
"The fact is that when it was posted to the auction site on April 19 they knew what it was, maybe they did not know about NAGPRA but they knew what they had," the ICTMN reader commented. "Only after many e-mails to Goodwill, to the Oklahoma Historical Society and to the CEO of the NY Goodwill did the auction come to an end at 9:51 ET on the morning of April 20."
After it was removed from auction, Dan Victori, Goodwill’s e-commerce manager, sited NAGPRA—the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act—as why it was removed, explaining to WKBW Channel 7 that it’s illegal for an organization like Goodwill to sell items that were found on Native American land.
Spiro Mounds is a prehistoric Native American site outside of Spiro, Oklahoma. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the area was a permanent settlement from A.D. 800 to A.D. 1450 but people camped in the area for 8,000 years before that.
The piece will now be making its way back to Oklahoma, to the Caddo Indian Nation, which has claimed the vase. "Once we were alerted to what it was," Jeremy Juhasz, Goodwill's local social media and website coordinator, told Buffalo News, "there was no doubt that we were happy to donate it back to them."
"We're pretty amazed that the thing wasn't (a) broken or (b) just thrown out," he also said.
The mystery of how the vase ended up in the western New York warehouse is unknown, as is the donor. Juhasz explained to Buffalo News that the donation could have been dropped at any number of sites in Erie and Niagara counties. Those donations are then all brought to the warehouse on Williams Street in Buffalo.