Tax evasion scheme proves costly for Southeast Asian Archaeology

The New York Times carries an article walking about how the recent antiquities smuggling racket (see here, here and here) damages the archaeological record – and all for a tax evasion scheme. The article quotes extensively from Dr Joyce White of the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Ban Chiang project. Many thanks to Dr. White for flagging the article.

Ban Chiang Ware, creative commons image by drdrewhonolulu

Tax Scheme Is Blamed for Damage to Artifacts
The New York Times, 04 Feb 2008

Artefacts from Ban Chiang, a Bronze Age village in Northeast Thailand were among those that turned up during the museum raids last week.

The scholar, Joyce C. White, director of the Ban Chiang Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, said that the items smuggled and sold in the United States tend to be those that are intact, and that for each intact item removed there were doubtless many broken ones. When properly excavated, she said, the ensemble of items establishes the date of the intact artifact and yields countless details about historical and social context.

The looting of “any one piece of intact pottery represents the huge complete erasures of books and books and books that would have, could have, been written had the research been done,” she said in a telephone interview.

Read more about the smuggled artefacts here.
Books about Ban Chiang:
Ban Chiang, a Prehistoric Village Site in Northeast Thailand: The Human Skeletal Remains (Thai Archaeology Monograph Series, 1) by M. Pietrusewsky and M. T. Douglas
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
Southeast Asia: A Past Regained (Lost Civilizations)
Ban Chiang: Art and prehistory of Northeast Thailand by A. J. Labbei
Ban Chiang: Discovery of a Lost Bronze Age by the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania by J. C. White
Cognition and design production in Ban Chiang painted pottery by P. Van Esterik
Ban Chiang prehistoric cultures by Y. Chin

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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