via Tea Circle: Oxford DPhil Candidate Phacharaphorn Phanomvan discusses the emergence of small scale looting of antiquities in Myanmar and Thailand, particularly on how small antiquities like beads are thought to be desirable in the Thai market.
A heavy burden is placed upon governments of emerging economies to police looters and track down lost artefacts. These efforts would be better diverted towards addressing the demand side of the market, like sellers and collectors. At the same time, archaeologists should strive to develop an engagement approach with local communities and use heritage sites, even smaller ones, to develop alternative income and incentives. An increasing amount of grant funding for excavations now contains preferences for projects that can help develop local communities such as the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) funding for initiatives in Latin America and Cambodia. The Myanmar Archaeological Association (MMA) has started working with communities in Bagan and Pyu sites to encourage public awareness and develop local cultural management organisations for planning and resisting looting among villagers. These local efforts will need more funding and capacity building to expand towards sites outside Burman historical attention.
Most archaeologists agree that urban development, agricultural practice, and looting have extensively destroyed Thailand’s archaeological heritage. I write this in the hope that some efforts could be diverted towards containing ‘trinket’ collection trends among the growing middle class that have led to a very widespread and destructive small-scale looting practice. However, in the long term, it is necessary to develop a further understanding of the effectiveness of law enforcement on small-scale looting. To minimise looting, communities need to be offered better alternative careers that can potentially involve heritage development.
Cost of Trinkets: A Growing Archaeological Looting Network Between Thailand and Myanmar | Tea Circle
The Guardian, 05 June 2017:
One of Australia’s most treasured second world war warships has been illegally salvaged for metal, devastating the war grave of more than 300 sailors, maritime archaeologists say.
An Australian-Indonesian expedition conducted a dive on the wreck of HMAS Perth, which sank in 1942 following a fierce battle against the Japanese navy off the north-west tip of Java.
Kevin Sumption, the director of the Australian National Maritime Museum, said: “It is with profound regret we advise that our joint maritime archaeologist diving team has discovered sections of the Perth missing. Interim reports indicate only approximately 40% of the vessel remaining.
Source: Sunken Australian warship HMAS Perth ransacked by illegal scavengers | Australia news | The Guardian
The Maritime Executive, 08 May 2017: The Malaysian and Indonesian authorities have detained the MV Chuan Hong 68 and her crew, a vessel which is believed to be illegally looting shipwrecks (including war graves) in Indonesian and Malaysian waters.
MV Chuan Hong
Somebody has been stealing warships from Southeast Asian waters – more specifically, sunken warships, which are prized for their scrap metal value. Indonesian authorities now believe that they have caught one of the perpetrators: they allege that the 8,000 gt Chinese grab dredger Chuan Hong 68 was responsible for illegally scavenging the wrecks of the pre-WWII Japanese destroyer Sagiri, plus the passenger vessels Hiyoshi Maru and Katori Maru, the steamship Igara and the tanker Seven Skies.
It is the second time that maritime authorities have caught the Chuan Hong 68 in as many months. On April 20, the Indonesian Navy detained her in the waters off Natuna in the Riau Islands on the suspicion that she was engaged in illegal dredging. She escaped on April 22 and fled to Malaysia, where she was detained once again by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.
Source: Indonesia Captures Maritime Grave Robbers
Indonesia seeks Interpol’s help to find dredger (Straits Times, 23 April 2017)
The Thieves Who Steal Sunken Warships, Right Down to the Bolts (Outside Online, 02 May 2017)
Indonesia Detains Chinese-flagged Dredger for Looting Sunken Treasure (Netral, 07 May 2017)
The Observer, 12 April 2017: “I went into it because I thought I might be able to afford to buy what I thought was a copy of a Cambodian statue in the window. Then the man named a price which was absolutely incredible. I said, ‘Do you mean that this piece is authentic?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Then you are a thief.’”
An exiled prince tries to recover antiquities stolen from his home country of Cambodia.
Source: Even With the Khmer Rouge Gone, Cambodian Antiquities Are Still Looted | Observer
30 March 2017: A report from the New York Times on the ongoing investigations of a New York auction house and the role scholars have played in muddying the history of some pieces put up for sale.
Ralph Blumenthal and Tom Mashberg, The New York Times
Source: Antiquities experts linked to case of looted Cambodian relics, National, Phnom Penh Post
A piece by Tess Davis of the Antiquities Coalition on the lessons we can learn from the looting situation in Cambodia and how it applies to world’s trouble spots today.
Cambodia’s story is a warning for the art world, but also for the international community. Over the past century, we’ve watched brutal regimes, extremists, and organized criminals all traffic in heritage to fund their activities. We’ve seen that trafficking is not just a side effect of armed conflict; it is a driver of violence. And we’ve learned that the illicit trade in heritage can far outlive the conflicts that created them, and that peace can, counterintuitively, open up new markets and buyers for antiquities.
Source: Buyer Beware: US Market for Ancient Asian Art Still the Wild, Wild East | The Diplomat
Natali Pearson discusses the recent cases of underwater looting of World War II shipwrecks in Indonesia
Sunken World War II warships, the final resting place for thousands of sailors, have been disappearing in Indonesia. But so far there’s been little action taken to ensure their protection.
Source: Ghost ships: why are World War II naval wrecks vanishing in Indonesia?
A lintel that was stolen from an Angkorian temple in Thailand’s Buriram province is believed to be found in a museum at San Francisco.
Lintel believed to be stolen from Buriram province. Source: Bangkok Post 20160804
Priceless Buri Ram lintel found in San Francisco
Bangkok Post, 04 August 2016
A Buri Ram-based conservation group has kick-started a campaign to press for the return of a “lintel”, a decorative object above a gate, believed to have been smuggled out of Thailand decades ago.
Tanongsak Harnwong, leader of Samnuek 300 Ong conservation group, said the pre-Angkorean lintel, which was made of white sandstone in the Kleang-Baphuon style and featured Lord Yama, or the god of death, surrounded by flowers, was on exhibition at the Chong Moon Lee museum in San Francisco. It was believed to have been stolen from Nong Hong temple in Buri Ram’s Non Dindaeng district some 50 years ago.
He said the group obtained a photo of the lintel and compared it with one taken by the late archaeologist Manit Vallibhotama, who took the photo of the famous Vishnu reclining on the Serpent Ananta lintel at Phanom Rung sanctuary, and found the two were identical. “They look like the same item,” said the businessman-turned-conservationist who was involved in the restoration of Nong Hong temple in 2002-2003.
Full story here.
The Cambodian Museum of Culture has just published a book of stolen antiquities from the Battambang museum, a move which will likely assist in the future repatriation of artefacts if they show up in the art market.
Images from the Wat Po Veal museum. Source: Cambodia Daily 20160607
With New Book, Quest to Recover Stolen Battambang Statues Begins
Cambodia Daily, 07 June 2016
The Ministry of Culture released a book on Monday of about 68 Khmer sculptures that were stolen from museums in Battambang City during decades of war and conflict, and intends to use the publication in a global search to recover the artifacts.
The result of a painstaking investigation by a restoration team from the National Museum assisted by the French School of the Far East (EFEO), the book proves that, until the early 1970s, the sculptures were at the Battambang Provincial Museum or the Wat Po Veal Museum.
“We want, first of all, to alert the owners of these pieces that what they have is illegally owned: This belongs to the national inventory of Cambodia,” said Anne Lemaistre, country representative for Unesco, which supported the book project.
Full story here.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Ban Chiang culture in Thailand’s Udon Thani province. This article from the Isaan Record features and interview with Dr Joyce White and her involvement with the site.
Burials at Ban Chiang. Source: The Isaan Record 20160420
The legacy of Ban Chiang: Archaeologist Joyce White talks about Thailand’s most famous archaeological site
The Isaan Record, 20 April 2016
Fifty years ago in August, in the village of Ban Chiang near Udon Thani, a visiting American student named Stephen Young tripped over an exposed tree root and fell atop the rim of a clay pot partly buried in the village path. His tumble set into motion two joint Thai-American archaeological expeditions to Ban Chiang in the 1970s that exposed the extent of prehistoric burial sites beneath the village, sites filled with thousands of pieces of pottery and metalwork buried as grave goods by Neolithic and Bronze Age peoples at different times between 4200 and 1800 years ago. The Ban Chiang finds revealed unexpected technological and artistic development among the peoples of the region and challenged prevailing ideas about the prehistory of Southeast Asia.
American archaeologist Dr. Joyce White is the Director of the Ban Chiang project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, USA, where she has studied the finds from Ban Chiang since 1976. She is an expert witness for the US Department of Justice in an ongoing antiquities trafficking case that in 2014 resulted in the return of many smuggled Ban Chiang items to Thailand.
Full story here.