Some Parties Are Claiming Artefacts- Rais


12 Sep 2006 (Bernama) – A follow up to the seizure of artefacts in September 2005, parties like the Museum of the Philippines are seeking the return of artefacts in the haul which the museum claims it owns.

Some Parties Are Claiming Artefacts- Rais

Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage Datuk Seri Dr [tag]Rais Yatim[/tag] said several parties claimed that the more than 400 artefacts and historical items found in various containers seized at the Port Klang in September 2005 were theirs and should be returned to them.

“Their excuses are they have proof of contract between Philip Greco, an American who has permanent resident status in the country through the ‘Malaysia My Second Home’ programme with parties which provided the financing.

“We will go through these claims from the legal aspects and if their claims are genuine, we can give some estimates and allow several artefacts worth RM2.2 million to be claimed,” he told reporters when commenting on the latest development on the artefacts and historical items.

Rais described the situation as a “mystery” when Greco succeeded in bringing in the artefacts by declaring them as household items worth RM7,600 although the real value of these treasures ran into millions of ringgit.

Grave Robbing: Where do we draw the line?


27 June 2006 (Bangkok Post) – Here’s one for potential robust discussion: where is the line between archaeology and tomb raiding?

We often read of new discoveries of tombs or graves found by archaeologists. I would like to know just who gives these people the right to uncover the final resting place of anyone, be it kings, monarchs or any other individual? Where do we draw the line on illegal grave robbers, or opening thousand year old tombs?

If I, or any one today were to die and be buried with a $300,000 [11.5 million baht] ring on our finger, and someone were to dig up our grave and steal the ring, they would be subject to arrest, and a long prison term. So why then, is it okay to rob the graves or tombs of ancients, in the name of archaeology?

Every living being deserves the right to be buried after death, and expect his eternal resting place to be sacred, and not disturbed.

Soi Keow Noi

The wrath of the gods and other hassles

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23 June 2006 (Thanh Nien Daily News) – A convoluted tale of mistaken identification of provenance, treasure-hunting and “duds” in Vietnam.

The wrath of the gods and other hassles

The Vietnamese police have returned artifacts they earlier claimed to be a “national treasure” made of pure gold to a woman who dug them up in 1997, giving rise to tales of gold, gods, and the law.

… In 2001, after running up debts, the woman decided to sell the ‘treasure’… attracted the attention of the police, who, believing the objects to be national treasures, seized everything pending investigation.

Besides confiscating the money from the purchase, the police asked the local people’s committee to fine Bay for trading in national treasures, which is punishable under Vietnamese law.

… The National Council for Antiquity Analysis tested the objects and concluded they were cast recently and were definitely not national treasures.

… The site of the treasure, Bay’s garden, used to be a part of the Cham kingdom, which was rich in gold. The Cham also made lots of small idols, many of them in pure gold.

Thus, someone living there much later could have dug up genuinely gold idols and, believing they had robbed the earth of a precious treasure and fearing its wrath, made fake idols to replace them.

After bringing home the real treasures, they could have buried the fake ones at the exact location to cheat the earth goddess into believing they were still there.

Foreigner sues Government to recover artefacts


14 June 2006 (The Star Online) – Treasure hunters are suing the Malaysian customs department for seized artefacts. Reportedly Chinese and Filipino artefacts originated from US, were in transit in Malaysia before being sent to Dubai and sold for export. (Huh?)

Foreigner sues Government to recover artefacts

The wife of an American treasure hunter has filed a suit against the Customs Department director-general and Government for the return of over RM154mil worth of artefacts seized at Port Klang in September.

It was reported that the 361 artefacts were about to be shipped to Dubai in containers when they were intercepted and seized at Northport by the authorities for investigation.

It was also reported that some of the items seized included ceramic bowls and plates, vases, chairs and tables, wooden shields, bells, gongs, spears, keris, swords, cannons and large drums believed to be from countries such as China and the Philippines.

Cambodia's tomb raiders threaten Iron Age heritage

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17 May 2006 (Mail & Guardian Online)

Cambodia’s tomb raiders threaten Iron Age heritage

As tomb raiders plunder Iron Age treasures — beads, gold ornaments and even the bones from burial mounds — archaeologists warn that Cambodia’s rich pre-Angkorian heritage will be completely lost within three years.

Hundreds, if not more, of the 4 000 or so documented sites across the country have already been torn apart, most often by desperately poor farmers urged on by middlemen who sell the artefacts at huge mark-ups in Cambodia’s cities or on the black market abroad.

Related Books:
Archaeology and archaeozoology of Phum Snay: a late prehistoric cemetery in Northwestern Cambodia by D. J. W. O’Reilly

Categories: Cambodia


Sunken treasure cheer turns sour


14 May 2006 (The Electric New Paper) – Legal battle between a German treasure-hunter and his German agent, both based in Singapore. Tilman Walterfang recovered a huge cache of Chinese Tang Dynasty artefacts dating 1,200 years in from “the waters between Malaysian and Borneo” (apparently off an Indonesian island). The artefacts have been sold to Singapore’s Sentosa Corp. The legal battle aside, the sale of sunken “treasure” is indicative of the extremely low legislative and academic support of archaeology in the region.

Sunken treasure turns sour

Mr Walterfang went in search of the treasure off the Indonesian island of Belitung between Borneo and Sumatra when he first heard of the ancient treasure from fishermen.

What he discovered on the seabed was tens of thousands of Chinese Tang dynasty artefacts dating back about 1,200 years.

It was enough for Mr Walterfang to quit his job in Germany .

In Indonesia, he and his partner, Mr Matthias Draeger, spent millions of dollars to salvage the treasure.

Seven years after their astounding discovery, they sold the treasure to Singapore’s Sentosa Leisure Group for what is understood to be about US$32 million ($50m) last year.

Related Books:

Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure in Southeast Asia by T. Wells

Rumors cause collectors to raid archaeological site

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3 May 2006 (Thanh Nien News) – Looting of antiquities in Vietnam.

Rumors cause collectors to raid archaeological site

Over the past two months, hundreds of people in Nghia Hoa commune, Nghia Dan district made their way to Dong Hieu rubber tree plantation located in Lang Vac (Vac Village) to hunt for antiques.

The wave of collectors began after a rumor that a person found a pair of ancient elephant statues there and sold them in Hanoi for hundreds of millions of dong (one US dollar is worth just under VND16,000).

Since then local residents have flocked to the archaeological site, which the Ministry of Culture and Information recognized as a national heritage in 1999, to dig for antiques in search of fast cash…

Hai also said many residents had found antiques, usually bronze products in shapes of deer, hippopotamuses, and wild-bulls, stone bracelets, pottery, iron swords, axes, and small bronze drums.

Related Books:
The Bronze Age of Southeast Asia (Cambridge World Archaeology) by C. Higham
Bronze Dong Son Drums by Ha Thuc Can
Van Hoa Dong Son / Dong Son Culture – Its Unity and Diversity by Pham Minh Huyen

Categories: Vietnam


Must Looted Relics be Ignored?

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2 May 2006 (New York Times) – Not SEA Archaeology, but a broad issue that bears some highlighting. In this part of the world, little has been set up in the protection of artefacts from looting. Most SEA countries don’t even have sufficient legislation to deal with archaeological finds.

Must Looted Relics be Ignored?

Inscribed on Sumerian clay tablets more than 4,000 years ago, the Code of Ur-Nammu may be the earliest known recorded set of laws in the world: dozens of rules written in cuneiform about commerce and taxes, family law and inheritance.

But many scholars won’t go near the one largely intact version of the code, and the top American journal of cuneiform research won’t publish articles about it. The reason? The tablet was bought by a private Norwegian collector on the open market and does not come from a documented, scientific excavation. According to the ethics policies of the leading associations for antiquities scholars, that means it is off limits.As scholars grapple with the reality that a growing number of important works — like the Ur-Nammu tablet and the recently unveiled Gospel of Judas — lack a clear provenance, those ethics policies are the focus of heated debate.

On one side are archaeologists and other experts who say that most objects without a clear record of ownership or site of origin were looted, and that the publication of such material aggrandizes collectors and encourages the illicit trade. On the other side are those who argue that ignoring such works may be even more damaging to scholarship than the destruction caused by looting.