Angkor Wat relics on sale on eBay

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17 May 2007 (PM) – PM is an afternoon radio news show in Australia. I think the title says it all: it’s alarming to learn that such pieces of Angkor Wat were on eBay for sale. It’s also interesting to note that the seller is based in Thailand and the goods are in Singapore – the two countries in SEA which have not been signatory to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The programme talks to people in eBay and Dr. Dougald O’Reilly, the director of Heritage Watch, an NGO based in Cambodia. You can hear the SEAArch podcast with Dr O’Reilly here.

Angkor Wat relics for sale on eBay

MARK COLVIN: Angkor Wat is a huge and ancient city of palaces and temples that rise out of the Cambodian forests and whose history gives it a prised position on the world heritage-list.

Now, a vendor on the Internet auction site eBay says you can have your very own piece of it.

Invaders and treasure hunters have looted Angkor Wat extensively since the Khmer kings abandoned it hundreds of years ago.

Although it’s been illegal to remove relics from Cambodia for the last decade, heritage workers say those laws are very difficult to enforce.

Timothy McDonald reports.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: For just under $6,000 you can have your own relief sculpture or statue to sit on the mantelpiece or next to the water feature in the back yard.

There’s just one problem, it’s quite possibly illegal to buy or sell the goods.

So eBay immediately started an investigation when PM informed the company about the seller.

Read the full story and even listen to the broadcast here.

Two Chinese arrested in Vietnam with smuggled artifacts

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27 March 2007 (Thanh Nien News) – 4 men are arrested near the Vietnam-China border for smuggling artefacts. The article does not specify the exact kinds of artefacts, although the bronze drum would almost certainly be of the Dong son type.

Two Chinese arrested in Vietnam with smuggled artifacts

Four men have been arrested, including two Chinese nationals, on the Chinese border on suspicion of smuggling antiquities, Vietnamese police said Monday.

They were apprehended last Friday in Mong Cai town with several items in their possession, some of which have been identified as ancient Vietnamese artifacts.

The police seized 36 items, including 1 bronze drum, 59 earrings, 10 statues, and a ceramic jar, according to the Cong An Nhan Dan (People’s Police) newspaper.

“The authorities are studying the items to identify their ages,” Nguyen Huu Khia[/tag], deputy head of the provincial police’s investigation department, said Monday.

Dream leads miner to ‘artifacts’

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2 March 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A dream leads an Indonesian man to unearth a one-metre tall statue of Brahma in East Java, leading to frenzied excavations in the area for more artifacts. There is a shade of doubt over the finds, however, as some are suspected to be counterfeit to fuel the village economy.

Dream leads miner to ‘artifacts’

The pointed end of Maksum’s pickax stuck in the ground when it hit a hard object, a stone. Maksum, a resident of Besuk in Kediri regency, East Java, missed a beat.

“Everything I had seen in my dream has come true. There is something under the ground,” Maksum said in retelling the story of his discovery to The Jakarta Post.

Slowly, the 48-year-old Maksum dug deeper with both hands round the hard object. The original shape of the stone, which later revealed itself to be that of a crown, began to emerge.

“I immediately called my friends and asked them to help me. Shortly afterwards, we saw it was a statue with four heads. It was the statue of the god Brahma,” he said.

This discovery, which took place on Jan. 20 at about 5 p.m., remains fresh in the mind of Maksum. And with it, the sand miner proved the truth behind the spiritual guidance he received in a dream.

The statue of Brahma was thus excavated from its earth-bound tome. Standing a meter tall, the statue depicts Brahma meditating in the lotus position atop a square base. The four heads of Brahma face the four cardinal directions, and royal ornaments adorn its crown, throat, torso, and arms. A kettle is carved to the left of the statue.

The statue’s discovery has prompted the search for other artifacts, and local residents continued digging at the site where the statue had been found.

In less than a month, several other statues were also unearthed. The statue of Lembu Andini, or Nandi, was discovered to the south of the Brahma statue. Another statue, of the goddess Durga Mahesa Sura Mandini, was found lying to the east of Lembu Andini.

“We have also discovered a rectangular lingga (phallus) statue at a point of some distance from the rest of the statues,” Maksum added.

The discovery of a number of these statues in Kediri has prompted the Trowulan Center for the Rescue of Archeological Relics (BP3) to study the artifacts. BP3 has sent a research team to the site of the discovery for reconstruction and further excavation. This research will also prove the authenticity of the statues, which some believe to be counterfeits.

Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology, Vol 19) by D. Chihara
Art of Indonesia: Pusaka
Pusaka, art of Indonesia

Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

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27 February 2007 (Jakarta Post) – Indonesian farmers turn to treasure hunting in times of drought to raise money, oblivious to the archaeological value of the artefacts.

Jakarta Post, 27 Feb 2007

Down on their luck, farmers turn gold diggers

It was seven months into the drought last month and the farmers of Pedes district in Karawang, West Java, were at their wits end thinking of ways to make a living.

Then one of them hit on something — literally — when he was digging in a field. Beads of gold and stone, ceramics and human bones protruded from the freshly dug earth.

“You can’t imagine what it was like to strike gold after being broke for months,” 56-year-old Wijaya, one of the Pedes residents who spent days and nights digging for ancient treasure in one of the rice fields near his house, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

Living just an hours drive from archeological sites dating back to a prehistoric era did not make Wijaya and his neighbors aware of the historical value of the beads they found.

Illegal excavations are common practice in the country, with some fully aware of the fact they are breaking the law stipulating that artifacts that are more than 50 years old belong to the state.

Some others, like those who found ceramics and coins in Jakarta’s Old Town, were simply ignorant they were erasing traces of history for the sake of some extra cash.

Meanwhile, archeologists are too busy playing Indiana Jones or seeking funding support to preserve ancient sites and the government cannot be relied upon.

“The public cannot be blamed for what has happened all too often. We have to support public archaeology if we want to raise community awareness,” said Peter Ferdinandus, a researcher with the National Archaeological Research Center.

Public archaeology is a branch of modern archaeology that focuses on increasing public awareness and education about archaeology and that promotes legislative attempts to provide funding and protection for archaeological sites.

Eighth century Hindu temple relics lost in Semarang

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9 Feb 2007 (Jakarta Post) – A sad story about how ancient Hindu temples have been pillaged in Indonesia by private collectors.

Jakarta Post, 9 Feb 2007

Eighth century Hindu temple relics lost in Semarang

Many 8th century historical relics from Hindu temples in Central Java have been lost, and are believed to be in the hands of private antique collectors.

Villager Sukirman, a native of Sidomulyo village in Central Java’s Semarang regency, said that during the 1980s many people came to the area to buy temple ruins or carved stones from residents.

During the independence struggle of the 1940s, many temple ruins could be found in the area between Paren hamlet to Sekere Hill in Sidomulyo, Sukirman said.

“We considered them to be just temple ruins and of no value, except as black rocks. The government also didn’t take care of them,” he said.

As the area became more densely populated, nearly all the temple ruins were tampered with or damaged, and a number of intact statues were bought by middlemen and antique collectors.

Related Books:
Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula by P. M. Munoz
Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia (Studies in Asian Art and Archaeology, Vol 19) by D. Chihara

Historical Treasure Troves Looted: West and Central Java

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21 January 2007 (Jakarta Post and Reuters, by way of – New archaeological finds in Java are being looted by local villagers, with reports of hundreds of kilogrammes of gold being taken from graves and sold in the black market.

Historical Treasure Troves Looted: West and Central Java

It appears that too many Indonesian farmers and the ilk have been watching Lara Cross and Tomb Raider recently. There have been two important archaeological finds in Central and West Java – both were looted.

The finds were in tombs in a rice field at Kendal Jaya village east of Jakarta, and the other in Sleman near Magelang in central Java.

In West Java, farmers have sold hundreds of gold artifacts stolen from skeletal corpses unearthed at a newly-found ancient burial complex. The skeletons had chains of gold rings around their necks, heads, hands, and feet.

They were buried with other accessories made of precious stones or gold as well as axes and other pottery articles. Between 15 and 25 people are estimated to have been buried at the site at a depth of only about 1.5 meters (five feet).

Archaeologists expressed concern at reports that hundreds of villagers have been selling gold necklaces and ornaments that they found at the site over the past week.

Archaeological agency official Manggar Sariayuwati said it was estimated the relics dated back to an 8th or 9th century Buddhist kingdom.

And, an archaeological team working in Magelang district near Yogyakarta have also unearthed a site from the Mataram Kingdom dating back to the ninth century AD.

The site at Losari village is believed to possibly be even bigger than the famous Borobudur Buddhist monument near Yogyakarta city, which also dates back to around the ninth century.

The head of the Yogyakarta ancient heritage office, Manggar Sariayuwati, said that the findings were estimated to be dated from the eighth to the ninth century AD.

Java has many ancient sites dating back to the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms that flourished from the seventh century onwards.

Podcast 03: Heritage Watch

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Merry Christmas one and all! The SEAArch Podcast talks to Dr Dougald O’Reilly, the director of Heritage Watch, an NGO in Cambodia that seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of Cambodia. Dr O’Reilly talks about the work of Heritage Watch, the extent of looting of artefacts in Cambodia, and how you can help.

Hear (or download) the podcast on the SEAArch Podcast page.

Ban slapped on excavation work

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22 October 2006 (Bangkok Post) – Looting on archaeological sites for prehistoric beads for resale leads to a clampdown on excavations. Remember: if you’re in the Chatuchak market and you’re offered to buy ancient beads, DON’T BUY THEM.

Ban slapped on excavation work

Local authorities in Chumphon and Sakaew have slapped a ban on excavation work following intensified looting by villagers hunting for ancient beads at archaeological sites. In Chumphon, widespread bead searches have been reported at archaeological sites on forest and private land in Muang and Sawee districts.

Further reports came in that four districts of Prachin Buri, including Si Maha Phot, Si Mahosot, Muang and Prachantakham, were home to the prehistoric beads, mostly made of shell and pottery, making them vulnerable to illegal hunting. The items could fetch 1,000 to 3,000 baht at local markets and Bangkok’s Chatuchak market.

Australian fined for artifact theft

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8 – 11 October 2006 (Various news sources, see below) – By far, this got the most hits in terms of news, probably because someone from the first world was actually convicted. In short, an Australian holidaying in Cambodia was arrested and eventually fined for possessing and buying three stones taken from the Angkor Wat and Bayon temples. The stones weighed a total of 30 kg. Eventually he was found guilty of possession, but convinced the court that he was not a trafficker of antiqities but a tourist who didn’t know better and was slapped with a nominal fine. The moral of the story? Don’t buy stones or pieces of buildings from locals. Not only are they illegal, they also help fuel an illicit trade. Next time, get a t-shirt like everbody else.

Here are the news reports as they appeared in chronological order (ok, roughly so).

8 October:
Daily News and Analysis – Cambodia arrests Aussie tourists for artifact theft

9 October: (Daily Telegraph, Perth Now, The Australian) – Aussie faces jail over Angkor Wat stones (Herald Sun, Adelaide Now, Courier Mail, The Age, Perth Now, The Australian) – Australian to be fined over artefacts
ABC Online – Australian faces fine over artefacts possession in Cambodia

10 October:
Raw Story – Australian to face Cambodian court over alleged artifact theft
Bangkok Post – Cambodia fines antiques smuggler

11 October:
Sydney Morning Herald – Australian fined for ‘souvenirs’
The Raw Story – Cambodian court fines Australian over purchase of artifacts (Courier Mail, Herald Sun, The Australian, Daily Telegraph) – Aussie tourist fined for buying artefacts
IHT – Cambodian court fines Australian tourist for illegal possession of Angkor-era artifact

History Lost in Cagayan de Oro

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21 September 2006 (Minda News) – A commentary by Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) in the Philippines about the state of archaeological looting there. Incidentally, I’ve been to Cagayan de Oro as a kid, where I was staying with some family friends at the Del Monte pineapple processing factory.

COMMENTARY: History Lost in Cagayan de Oro

Archaeological looting in the Philippines is quite common: Three hundred years of Spanish rule and 40 years of American occupation have created a population largely apathetic to its roots. Widespread poverty and stories about alleged treasures buried by Japanese soldiers during the Second World War have prodded many people to take anything of perceived value from caves and other sites.

This condition has made archaeological work in the Philippines frustrating. Archaeology to most people is a vague occupation, and archaeologists are sometimes suspected as treasure hunters. Their presence in an area may cause looting instead of protection of fossils and relics. When archaeologists leave a site after hours of painstakingly slow scraping, they might find in the morning that their carefully made plot has turned into an ugly, gaping hole.